Melissa McCarthy is one funny woman. I can say that with a tremendous amount of certainty because I’ve seen more than one film which featured her and made me laugh uncontrollably while still being an overall disaster of a movie. She has the ability to milk the self-deprecation stuff while mixing it with a healthy amount of confidence that is pretty rare for comedians who typically rely on nothing more than having a pretty specific look. Her physical comedy is on par with a master like the late Chris Farley and as was the case with Farley her overall likability is off the charts. All of that being said, how wonderful would it be to see a role written for her in a movie that was actually the kind of film people could get excited about? Can Spy catapult McCarthy into the leading lady of comedy stratosphere?
In Spy, McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, the spy-behind-the-spy who sits in the bat-infested basement of CIA headquarters and guides super-agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) through dangerous adventures by way of ear piece, satellite imagery and snappy patter. When unrequited love interest Fine goes dark at the hand of Rayna Boyanov, portrayed by Rose Byrne, it’s somehow up to Susan to go deep undercover to take Boyanov down and retrieve a rogue nuke before a nefarious group of terrorists detonate the bomb on American soil. It’s a shame that the CIA only has about three agents and the bad guys know all of them, but them’s the breaks.
In Spy, Paul Feig and his cast throw a lot at the wall to see what sticks. Sometimes, such as in the case of the bats in the basement and the subsequent physical maladies that accompany them, it ends up being kind of pointless and quickly shrugged off, which doesn’t work so well. Other themes, like the parade of quirky sidekicks that find their way into Cooper’s mission, work much better throughout the film. In fact, the supporting players here are mostly outstanding, with special nods to the eminently horny Italian Aldo (Peter Serafinowics) and to Jason Statham and his hilarious turn as Rick Ford, would-be agent extraordinaire who’s every bit the bumbling fool he suspects Susan Cooper of being. All in all, more of the laughs land than not, and that’s another testament to McCarthy’s talent, as she is the glue that holds it all altogether.
It was an odd choice to go with a hard R with Spy. I can appreciate well-executed adult comedy as much as anybody, but it just doesn’t make much sense here. It’s a gutsy decision with little to no payoff. The violence is at times so shocking it takes you completely out of the funny movie you were just watching. This isn’t a movie that needs to play up the stakes to that level. And while McCarthy and Co. make the most of the unfiltered dialogue, in the end it feels like the filmmakers just couldn’t let go of their one big dick joke. It’s too bad, because this film could easily be a family favorite, and instead it will likely continue to obscure McCarthy’s star as a mainstream comedy lead. Maybe that was the point. Maybe they were looking to break the mold and get McCarthy out of the typecast. All in all, that aspect of the film sadly fails.
What works well works exceptionally and the good far outweighs the bad. Feig and McCarthy take a big chance in the way they decide to portray Cooper as an agent and it’s a great choice. The character is fun, managing to be something of a surprise, and the movie succeeds around her. This is by far McCarthy’s best lead turn to date and it’s worth a look-see for sure. Expect even bigger and brighter things to come. I know I do.