After lengthy success in TV (Gilmore Girls, Mike & Molly), Melissa McCarthy finally broke through to film in 2011’s Bridesmaids, almost stealing the whole thing from the rest of the cast. In 2013 she received critical and commercial acclaim for The Heat with Sandra Bullock and, last year, starred opposite Bill Murray in quirky comedy St. Vincent.
So she’s been building to a big project and here with Paul Feig’s Spy we have the result. McCarthy leads the show but is ably supported by a great cast (all having a ball) which includes Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Allison Janney, Miranda Hart and Jude Law.
McCarthy plays desk-bound CIA analyst Susan Cooper, who gets thrown into the field to foil a plot by evil baddie Rayna Boyanov (a bitchy Rose Bryne) to sell a nuclear weapon. From the off we see Susan on a headset advising charismatic agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law on fine, narcissistic form) as he dispatches bad guys with time to check his hair. Bond eat your heart out.
Once the Americans learn Rayna is behind a plot to steal a nuke, CIA head Elaine (a pragmatic, spiky Allison Janney) realises none of their current agents can get near her as they’ll be recognised, so up steps Susan, sent off to a series of European locations on a mission to ‘track and report’ only. This disgusts loose cannon agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham), who ends up butting heads with her throughout the movie in a series of hilarious encounters (who knew Statham was this funny?).
As a writer-director Paul Feig has formed a stellar partnership with Melissa McCarthy; they’ve now done three films together (Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy) and she knows exactly how to make his material sing, comedically speaking. And in the world of funnies she’s really carved her own niche. Lazy critics might say McCarthy is the female Will Ferrell or, given Bridesmaids‘ common DNA with The Hangover, the female Zach Galifiniakis. Why she has to be the female equivalent of a male actor is beyond me, but that’s Hollywood and the media I guess, still a man’s world to the core.
Back to Spy, the plot is relatively simple and merely a device for McCarthy to show Susan’s progression from timid analyst to kick ass spy, which she does convincingly. She’s surrounded by quite a lot of British talent too, from fellow analyst, ditzy Nancy (Miranda Hart) to lecherous ‘Italian’ Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz having the time of his life). So it’s an odd mix in a way, but it works well.
Spy has its tongue in its cheek the entire time and there’s barely a quiet moment to reflect on whether all the jokes are landing or not (most of them do). But none of this matters as you won’t be assessing it during (a sure sign the comedy is flagging); you’ll be with Susan on her journey in all its sweary glory. In the year of spy films coming out (The Man from UNCLE, Bond’s SPECTRE) it remains to be seen whether audiences will tire of this genre by the end of the year. If they don’t, there’s a high chance we’ll see a Spy 2 greenlit, so watch this space.