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Worth A Look: 30.77%
Average: 7.69%
Pretty Bad: 7.69%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 7 user ratings

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by Brett Gallman

"A movie deserving of Melissa McCarthy's talents."
5 stars

With the spy genre having been thoroughly spoofed, subverted, and deconstructed over the past 30 years, a film like “Spy” seems a bit late to the party, and you wonder if that’s not exactly what director Paul Feig would have you believe. From the onset, your defenses are raised, on the lookout for the obvious genre signposts and takedowns, and Feig deploys them as a smokescreen to conceal the trenchant commentary smuggled in beneath the surface. “Spy” doesn’t just have a gender-bent genre in its crosshairs, as it also takes aim at toxic mindsets surrounding women assuming presumably masculine roles—and who better to take the lead than Melissa McCarthy, whose talents have been underappreciated and frequently misused?

In many ways, McCarthy is a perfect avatar for the discussions surrounding the past half-decade of comedy: after breaking through in Feig’s “Bridesmaids” four years ago, she was hailed as a refreshing talent, even if her—and the film’s—emergence was couched in an oddly sexist "realization" that women can be just as funny as men at doing “guy stuff.”

Since then, it seems as if many wanted her to simply become a female Kevin James, with films like “Identity Thief” and “Tammy” emphasizing her physical comedy chops and little more. More than anything, “Spy” feels like Feig’s second attempt (after “The Heat”) to remind Hollywood that she has so much more to offer—and that we should stop being surprised when she kicks so much ass.

We see this play out in broad strokes in “Spy,” where desk-ridden CIA agent Susan Cooper (McCarthy) only plays back-up to dashing superspy Bradley Fine (Jude Law). As he garners all of the glory in the field, she anonymously provides key intel to keep him alive—at least until he runs afoul Rayna Boyanav (Rose Byrne), the daughter of a weapons dealer attempting to sell a nuke on the black market. After a fateful encounter leaves Fine dead and Ranya in the possession of key CIA intelligence, Susan has the opportunity to enter the field, much to the chagrin of both her supervisor (Allison Janney) and her fellow spies.

Those familiar with McCarthy’s lesser work are in for “Spy’s” first great joke when it’s revealed that Susan isn’t nearly the incompetent agent you’d expect her to be. Video footage of her field training immediately refutes that: here she is going absolutely berserk and blowing through the course with ease. Why has she been chained to a desk for eight years? Well, naturally, it’s where Fine and the agency’s other men thought she’d be best suited. “Women,” Janney sighs as she shakes her head.

And yet despite this evidence of Susan’s extreme competence, the agency saddles her with thankless field tasks that have her assuming ridiculous identities and staying far away from the actual action. As Susan continues to dress up in dowdy attire and put on forced personalities that poke fun at her femininity, you can’t help but think it’s a shot across the bow towards McCarthy’s previous duds.

When this film turns her loose, it’s triumphant both on a story and metafictional level: this is what she’s capable of when given the chance, and an already funny film becomes a rousing, uproarious testament to both McCarthy’s physical talents and her verbal wit. It turns out that the most unhinged—and perhaps truest—version of Susan Cooper is a profane shit-talker unafraid to mix it up with anyone, anywhere.

Feig wisely doesn’t make this a chintzy moralizing story and instead just more or less drops McCarthy into a straightforward spy film, albeit one that upends gender dynamics at every turn. “Spy” is a smartly written, tightly constructed take on the genre where each man seems to be in a competition to determine the biggest bozo: Law has all the charm of James Bond but maybe an ounce of his aptitude (upon his introduction, he accidentally shoots a high-value target in the face thanks to an allergy outbreak), while Peter Serafinowicz’s Italian womanizer overplays the skeezy, sexist overtures of the genre with ridiculous, incessant catcalls.

And then there’s Jason Statham, who charges into “Spy” like a bull and wrecks the place with every killer line delivery. Technically, he’s playing rogue agent Rick Ford; in reality, he’s playing a heightened version of every Statham stereotype, only he’s not actually as badass as he boasts. His dogged belief in a “Face-Off” machine reveals him to be a man who lives in a fantasy world where he also once drove a car on top of a train while on fire.

In spy-movie parlance, Statham is certainly a secret weapon here in a revelatory performance that resists the perception that “Crank” was some kind of fluke. He’s the real deal as a comedian, even if he’s just goofing on his own persona. You know how we talk about someone being so charismatic that we'd listen to them read a phone book? I could listen to this version of Jason Statham reel off a laundry list of incredulous feats. I don't know if I've ever hoped more for an eventual special feature for a home video release.

That Statham holds his own amongst such a deep cast is impressive: Byrne adds yet another hilarious performance to her résumé as Rayna, an outlandish spoiled-little-rich-girl with hairstyles and outfits as big as her terrifying personality. Popular UK comedienne Miranda Hart is a delightful partner in crime for McCarthy once she, too, is unloosed from a desk and wanders into the field. These two are such a fun pair that you hope Feig—or someone similarly capable—is developing another vehicle for them.

Feig doesn’t waste the talent at his disposal: his script is sharply lined with clever visual gags, snappy dialogue, and well-considered jokes. Many of them are on everyone surrounding McCarthy rather than vice-versa, and where many of her co-stars are playing broad caricatures, she’s allowed a range that takes her from sincere pathos (she clutches a ridiculous cupcake necklace with absolute conviction) to gut-busting fits of humor and violence (there’s a slick kitchen fight here that would make Jackie Chan smile).

It’s clear that Feig and McCarthy bring out the best in each other, and this is a nice collaborative rebound for both. “Spy” succeeds in both its meta-textual musings and in its adoption of a genre—this is actually a great spy movie that doesn’t lose its plot in the same manner as “The Heat,” a film that was too self-satisfied as a novel star vehicle.

Here, Feig has something to say, and it's important, particularly as he embarks on the unenviable task of updating “Ghostbusters.” There are some who already object on the grounds that women (including McCarthy) will assume the roles—it would do them well to heed what Feig is saying in “Spy” because, well, the joke’s on them, too.

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originally posted: 06/05/15 17:19:09
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/15/15 David Hollingsworth Worth it just to see Melissa McCarthy 4 stars
10/05/15 G. Absolutely hilarious. Still not over Jason Statham's performance. 5 stars
7/05/15 Charles Tatum Funny stuff, but The Heat was slightly better 4 stars
6/29/15 KingNeutron 2.5 *s, 50% comes across as Improv and the 1st 30 min were CRINGEWORTHY unwatchable "humor" 2 stars
6/14/15 Luisa Melissa is hilarious, love her! 4 stars
6/08/15 Simplefilmreviews Same Melissa, Different Story 3 stars
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  05-Jun-2015 (R)
  DVD: 29-Sep-2015

  23-May-2015 (15)

  21-May-2015 (MA)
  DVD: 29-Sep-2015

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