“Spy” Movie Review


     Like their films or not, Melissa McCarthy and writer/director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”, “The Heat”) are making quite the financially successful duo at the box office.  Which means mainstream audiences approve, regardless of whether or not their efforts are receiving critical acclaim.  Their latest film, “Spy”, is a sort of spoof of the Bond franchise, though not as over the top as the “Austin Powers” films were.  To a certain extent, Feig grounds the film’s story in a certain level of reality that blurs the line between complete farce and characters whose actions may seem somewhat plausible.  That aside, “Spy” comes loaded with various Bond character references and seeks to turn the genre upside down by casting both the film’s protagonist and antagonist as women, leaving the men in the story as mere sidekicks engaged in high levels of buffoonery.  For the most part, the film works on several levels, but one can’t ignore the fact we have seen all of this played out many times before.

     For those that follow the industry, we know McCarthy and Feig are moving forward with a “Ghostbusters” reboot, planned with an all female cast.  All of this follows suit with a push gaining momentum throughout Hollywood for more lead roles for women, particularly ones traditionally reserved for men.  Here, Feig writes McCarthy as a frumpy CIA analyst named Susan Cooper, who guides agents in the field through treacherous missions while safe within the friendly confines of CIA headquarters.  Although the story begins with mostly male agents performing the majority of the dirty work, we are immediately introduced to CIA Deputy Director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) who is running the show and making the decisions.  This, of course, becomes key when all of the agents in the field have their identities compromised and the agency must apprehend a dangerous arms dealer named Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), who possesses a suitcase sized nuke she plans on selling to the highest bidder.

     In a particularly hilarious roundtable between Elaine and the lead agents working the case, it is suggested Susan go under cover in order to track down Rayna who is thought to be conducting business in Paris.  What makes the scene fun, aside from a strange case of pink eye that serves as a memorable sight gag, is this is where we come to the realization that Jason Statham is playing a role for the first time that is essentially making fun of every role he has played before.  Kind of like Robert De Niro did when he played an overly emotional mobster in “Analyze This”, Statham’s Agent Rick Ford bumbles his way through situations his other characters would easily handle with razor sharp precision.  Instead, he allows henchman to follow him and switch his backpack with one containing a bomb as Susan, now a full fledged badass, moves in to save the day.  Perhaps the tidbit Elaine shares about Susan’s time during her CIA Agent training means she is more than meets the eye.

     While the idea of an overweight, foul mouthed secret agent may seem like a novel idea, the overall result of having McCarthy take on the role in “Spy” ultimately leads to her performing many of the same physical stunts (the ones that make a joke out of her ever widening girth) and spewing out the repetitive F-word infused dialogue that she has already become famous for.  I’ve always said McCarthy is much better in supporting roles so as to allow her comic ability to have a little more punch coming in smaller doses.  Once her character transforms into the same kind of ass kicking, gun toting, one liner machine that men such as Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Statham himself love to play, we aren’t left with much of a novelty.  Instead, the filmmakers seem thrilled to have their female lead reenacting and embracing all of the bad habits exhibited by men.  Not exactly groundbreaking by any means.

     Fortunately, many of the supporting players are game during their scenes and succeed in providing plenty of laughs, especially once the one note nature of McCarthy’s character begins to feel like a rerun.  British actress Miranda Hart plays off of McCarthy well as a fellow CIA analyst who stands high above the rest.  As does Peter Serafinowicz’s Agent Aldo whose antics while supporting Susan’s mission bring groping to a new level.  Bobby Cannavale isn’t necessarily memorable, but at least he gets to have some fun playing arms dealer Sergio De Luca rather than his usual husband/boyfriend character dealing with estranged relatives.  Overall, “Spy” works as a moderately entertaining starring vehicle for McCarthy, but isn’t the kind of film we’ll be talking about even a month from now.  Merely changing the gender of what is traditionally a male dominated role and having that character simply mimic the very cliches we often criticize those actors for, means the filmmakers either wanted to show men how dumb they really look, or McCarthy just wanted to lead the way for the women who just want in on the action.  GRADE: C