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Movie Review: 'Spy'

The ridiculous comedy Spy celebrates the genre while poking male genitalia in its eye.

Review by Matt Cummings

If any of you winced while watching The Heat or Identity Thief, and outright gagged at the sight of Tammy, you know that Actress Melissa McCarthy has incredibly persevered. Films like those would ruin most careers, but here McCarthy stands, ready for the next challenge. That one arrives in the hilarious action comedy Spy, a renaissance film of sorts that showcases what happens when great talent (finally) meets a competent script and supporting cast.

Behind every great spy like CIA agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) is his support system, in this case the 40-something Susan Cooper (McCarthy), whose stunted rise through the agency has relegated her to Fine's eyes and ears in the vermin-infested CIA headquarters. When Fine is murdered by the arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) the overweight, homely Cooper seeks vengeance by posing as a series of embarrassing loner women while she tracks Boyanov to the terrorist Sergio De Luca (Bobby Cannavale). Cooper also must deal with the violence-seeking Agent Ford (Jason Statham) and the over-amorous Aldo (a hilarious Peter Serafinowicz) as they try to stop a nuclear weapon from being used on New York. The result will test the CIA's newest field agent's strength and constitution as she tries to keep Ford from getting killed while defending against Aldo's tenacious advances.

Spy does far more than merely mock the genre: it pokes a butt in its face, blows a fairly loud fart, then runs away giggling at itself. Not only is Writer/Director Paul Feig's script filled with plenty of smart one-liners, his plot about elevating the timid to positions of power is refreshing, considering how much he's chosen in the past to berate McCarthy and others. He also allows his cast to ad-lib at the right times, rather than slather on half-baked jokes like overly-buttered bread. This is McCarthy's best effort by far, elevated by genuinely funny comedy bits instead of the mean-spirited kind that's plagued her in recent outings. Normally, her unique blend of physical/angry comedy completely overtakes any chance she has at serving up the emotional core of her character. Not here: we get the sense that Cooper could be great, if given the chance in the field. When she gets there, McCarthy ups her game, balancing bumbling action with that trademark acumen for ad-lib.

Spy also features her best cast in years, each of them adeptly bearing the comedic burden while bringing their core dramatic strengths into the comedy/action genre. I've been pimping Byrne's growing comedic genius since I saw her in I Give it a Year. She goes over the top sexy haute in Spy, effortlessly blending Euro-trash fashion sense with class disdain. Statham mocks his own estimable action resume, spitting off declarations of the various injuries he's sustained (he sewed one arm back on with the other) like a proud papa, each one growing more farcical and funnier. Based on the end button, it's clear that he and McCarthy had a ball - stick around for it.

Law eases into the Bond-like Line without a problem, demonstrating why he was on the short list back before Daniel Craig assumed the mantle. Law dazzled us this year in the quickly-forgotten Black Sea, and in Spy he plays Fine with typical Bond roguishness. Serafinowicz's Aldo is perhaps the most surprising part, as his entrances keep the energy up just at the right times. He's obsessed with Cooper's breasts and apologizes for oozing man juice on the back of her head during the film's climax (no pun intended), demonstrating just how important editing is to keeping a film from going off the rails. Janey carries off CIA bitch boss quite well, but Cannavale's De Luca isn't around long enough for us to care. The majority of the baddie heavy-lifting comes from Byrne, leaving Cannavale to simply look menacing. If there's any part of Spy that perhaps needed improvement, it's here.

Feig is honestly obsessed with the penis, his films tossing the member in for really no reason. No matter how he's tried to fit it in, the result is always particularly random. Luckily, he imbues Cooper with a true sense of right and wrong, whose patriotism and intelligence mixes well with her bumbling and a mouth that would embarrass even a sailor. One of my favorites occurs as Susan is getting her Q-inspired gear that's centered on hemorrhoid pads, stool softener, and a rape whistle. In any of other McCarthy production, that would have dragged on through multiple scenes, wearing out its welcome like it did so many times in Tammy. Feig's international locations are unique for a comedy, elevated by DP Robert Yeoman’s slick and beautiful sequences. A hilariously spot-on Bond-style opening credits sequence by Ivy Levan and some surprising action shots leave our experience shaken not stirred.

For anyone expecting anything other than a celebratory cloak-and-dagger comedy, Spy is not for you. However, if you're in the mood for an over-the-top raunchfest with a good performance by McCarthy and others - along with a story that won't insult your intelligence - this one is sure to entertain. If McCarthy's future is stuck doing fat roles, let's just hope they're all as good as this.

Spy is rated R for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity and has a runtime of 120 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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