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Friday, June 5, 2015

Review: Spy

Spy is pretty good. Or at least pretty good in a way that's acceptable in comedies these days.

I'm not sure at what point I stopped caring about the regular comedic output of Hollywood, it may have been around the time that Judd Apatow stopped making movies that were worth a damn, but I often zero in on Melissa McCarthy as one of the targets of my ire. It's not really deserved, she's not Kevin James or Adam Sandler, but her choice in scripts has certainly been questionable. Ever since her big breakout success in Bridesmaids, McCarthy has somewhat teetered around the same character type for some time. She's not untalented, and she's popped up in roles occasionally that play to a different strength such as in the otherwise lamentable St. Vincent, but Hollywood (and her agents) have found a bankable niche and they've basically ground her down into it.

It gets exhausting, and it generally turns me off from much of what she stars in. Looking at ads for Spy, with McCarthy slathered in gold, bespectacled, and wearing a grandmother wig; you could probably chart my apathy for this feature a mile away.

So, it's with some pleasure that I can report that Spy is a pleasant surprise, though you may want to keep your expectations in check (that 90th percentile score on Rotten Tomatoes is ridiculous and speaks to how utterly out of proportion that metric is now). If anything, Spy is the low bar that the rest of the comedy world should be aiming for.

Spy's set-up is of the general Bond-spoof variety, McCarthy's Susan Cooper is a CIA operative that feeds information into the earpiece of James Bond-like super spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law). Cooper has a strong rapport with Fine that harbors a certain level on unrequited romantic tension on her part, and when Fine is taken off the grid by the film's antagonist, Rayna (Rose Byrne wearing a wig so ridiculous it probably deserves its own feature), who has compromised information on all of the agency's undercover operatives, Susan is whisked into a cross-Europe operation that sees her tracking Rayna's every move for both professional and personal reasons.

It's a simple, solid plot and it makes the most out of the comedic gifts inherent in its star. With Spy, Paul Feig is able to utilize the two modes that McCarthy is probably most known for: the falling down all over herself goofball and the tough talking no-nonsense brute. While the transition between these two approaches isn't quite as smooth as I might like, Cooper's character definition is strong enough that, in a way, the film could be seen as the apotheosis of this era of the actresses' career. Spy is the lead role that McCarthy should have gotten following Bridesmaids, taking full advantage of what drew audiences to her in the first place, and now that this is cleared off the docket, perhaps it's time to move on to something more adventurous.

Basically everything about Spy works, from its lead to its supporting players. I never imagined Byrne would have such great comedic chops, but working with Feig has uncovered a talent that was heretofore unknown. I might even make the argument that Byrne steals the show from McCarthy, though much of that may come from my general surprise at her abilities in this setting as it is with a sense of "been there, done that" with the film's lead. Jason Statham also chimes in with some nice supporting work, dropping some rather funny non-sequiturs about his experience in the field (such as how he once had to reattach his own arm), he may also have the funniest scene in the entire proceedings right around the film's climax. Much like Byrne, I never would have guessed that Statham had such Peter Sellers-like gifts, but here we are, and I'm making that very statement. Allison Janney also gets to make a nice impression as Cooper's division head.

It's a bit of a shame that Spy came out so close to the release of the inferior Kingsman: The Secret Service. They both attempt to subvert the tropes of spy films, mostly that of the 007 variety, and while Kingsman's appeal may lie in its style over substance approach, Spy is inherently the much better film. Its humor is mostly sharper, with sparser gross out moments that hit with better impact when they actually come. Additionally, Spy closes on a much more empowering note, whereas Kingsman ended with its hero getting anal sex from a captive princess.

In all, Spy is a good time and a stronger follow-up to Feig's work in Bridesmaids than The Heat, but also carries a bit of disposable air. Where after viewing Bridesmaids there were a number of scenes that stuck with me, very little of Spy calls for repeat viewings, and a somewhat overbloated running time doesn't help. Honestly, this movie had no business being over 2 hours long, and you can instantly sense where the cuts needed to be made as you're watching. Also, this may be the point where I hit cell death on "you look like" jokes.

But, with that said, it's still worth your while to see, I just wish more comedies used this as the bare minimum of achievement rather than the upper echelon.

...I guess

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