Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne are a comedic dream team. While funny in “Bridesmaids,” they take it to another level and knock it out of the park in “Spy,” a movie with a plot line so bizarre, that some might wonder if it will work at all. It does.
For whatever reason, somebody in Hollywood has decided this would be the year of the spy movie. Okay, so James Bond flicks are still a regular occurrence but never have we seen this many all bunched together in one year, and the interesting thing about them is that none are taking themselves too seriously. If Kingsman: The Secret Service was like the maniacal twin to 007, Paul Feig’s Spy is like its uproariously funny, subversive cousin. Feig has found his comfort zone toying around with different comedic genres for star Melissa McCarthy to play around in, but The Heat was a mediocre comedy at best. Worst of all, it fed into McCarthy’s reliance on gruff, clumsy, and ultimately embarrassing characters. She’s too gifted an actress for that trend to continue. Spy is the movie she’s deserved to star in since she broke out in Feig’s Bridesmaids four years ago.
Susan Cooper (McCarthy) is a CIA agent who’s never been in the field. Instead she supports colleague Bradley Fine (Jude Law) and navigates as his eyes and ears all while sitting from her office desk. When an operation goes awry and Fine winds up dead, Susan offers herself up to her boss (Allison Janney) to track down the culprits. Since all other field agents have a target on their backs, she’s their best bet.
And, so it begins.
Like many of McCarthy’s previous characters, Cooper is initially portrayed as somewhat pathetic and desperate. In the eyes of others she’s seen as sad and incapable, and that has affected how she perceives herself. They don’t even think enough of her at the CIA to give her the cool spy gadgets; instead she gets unflattering devices hidden in feminine products. Her cover identities are embarrassing; like a divorced housewife or a lonely cat lady, not like her male counterparts who get to play sexy and cool businessmen. But when Susan is forced to improvise and get out of the box others have set her in, she’s a total badass. It’s like someone flips on the Jason Bourne switch and all of her CIA skills come rushing back along with her self-confidence.
As before, neither Feig nor McCarthy are afraid of taking the low road in pursuit of a laugh – it’s hard to imagine anyone else getting away with a running sexual-harassment gag that McCarthy makes inappropriately empowering. Jason Statham proves himself to be every bit as self-aware as you hoped, riffing on his gruff tough-guy persona with an admirably straight face, raising plenty of punchy laughs in the process.
Miranda Hart seems to have been parachuted in from a different movie as Cooper’s goofy sidekick, and Allison Janney lends moral support from HQ. But this is McCarthy’s show all the way, and you sense that many of her best lines weren’t in the script, writer-director Feig having the confidence to just light the touchpaper and stand well back.
While the laughs are constant, two hours is incredibly long for such a broad comedy and one can’t help but notice it. On the other hand, more Spy isn’t really something to complain about, but to be celebrated. McCarthy has always been such a tremendously talented, easily lovable actress that seeing her in movies like Tammy was heartbreaking. Spy is the first and hopefully not the last starring role that actually lives up to her gifts, and makes us love her all the more.