by Patrick Bromley
Spy, the third collaboration between writer/director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy (after Bridesmaids and The Heat) is a brilliant vehicle for its star, who gets to do all the things on screen that have made her one of the biggest names in comedy in the last few years. She's foul, she's physical, she's awkward, she's sweet. But the strength of her performance and the incredible span of her character arc make this not just the ideal vehicle for her, but her best role to date. She's the whole show. Lucky for Spy, she really is the whole show.
McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a mild-mannered CIA analyst who sits at a desk and assists on every mission for super spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law). While tracing a nuclear weapon hidden by spoiled brat terrorist Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne, who somehow has become one of the most dependable comic actresses working today), the identities of every field agent are compromised, so Susan volunteers to go into the field for the first time ever undercover as a dowdy cat lady. So it's off and running to Paris, Italy and Budapest, where Susan becomes the expert spy she always had the potential of being and is helped/thwarted at every opportunity by fellow CIA super spy Rick Ford (a very funny Jason Statham), who can't stop bragging about his accomplishments long enough to let Susan save the day.
But this is a comedy, and I didn't laugh quite as often as I hoped to. Like so many Hollywood comedies to spring up in the wake of The 40-Year Old Virgin, Spy feels overlong by about a half hour and edited in such a way that makes it feel sloppier than it should. Whether that's because Feig was cutting around improv and ad-libbing or because he just shot a ton of footage I really can't say, but the result is a film that feels shaggy when it should be airtight. There are laughs throughout the movie -- enough to justify a recommendation -- though they're mostly often tossed-off bits of dialogue or small character moments, not the jokes designed to hit the hardest. Still, a laugh is a laugh is a laugh.
If there's anything in Spy that skirts up against parody, it's Jason Statham's performance as asshole super spy Rick Ford. It's not anything he does in the performance (though his dialogue is ridiculous and wonderful), but rather his very casting that makes the film at least partially self-reflexive. While there's not a ton of genre commentary going on in Spy, I like that it makes a point of building up a plus-size woman into an action hero while exploding the myth of our testosterone-fueld he-man, turning it into a cartoonish exaggeration that's all talk and very little effective payoff. Does Feig want to destroy the traditional action movie? Of course not. It's obvious he's a fan. But he does argue that there are some other people that might be allowed to play in the same sandbox.