Ever since she made everyone sit up and pay attention to her bold and brash comedic skills in the 2011 gargantuan hit comedy Bridesmaids, Hollywood hasn’t really known what to do with Melissa McCarthy. Or rather, it keeps either wasting her and/or putting her in roles that are solely there to make fun of her weight (see Identity Thief as one of the worst examples).
Step in Spy, an outrageously, brilliantly silly comedy that represents both a huge step forward for McCarthy in Hollywood and a great subversion of the traditional Bond franchise in that, essentially, the actress is playing a Ms. Moneypenny who stands up from behind her desk, heads out in the field and kicks ass while not being afraid to look plain daft in the process.
McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, an unassuming desk-bound CIA analyst whose job it is to be the eyes and ears of her field agent partner Agent Fine (Jude Law) back at the office. But when he goes off the grid and the rest of the available agents have their identities exposed, Susan volunteers to go on a dangerous undercover mission to recover a nuke from a nuclear arms dealer (Rose Byrne).
To call Spy a spoof might be to oversimplify it, even if it does provide a raucous lampooning of what we know from those types of movies, but rather it works in its poking fun at the overrun subgenre in a completely organic way. The jokes come thick and fast, whether you like silly slapstick, clever one-liners and or exaggerated antagonistic exchanges, Spy throws everything in the mix that it can. Then chucks a nuke on top of it thereafter. It’s relentless and it just works.
The real key to its effectiveness is McCarthy and you have no idea how glad I am to be saying that. Reuniting with her Bridesmaids and The Heat director Paul Feig – one of the very few directors making female-driven comedies that are consistently both well received and make a lot of money – it’s finally a role that allows her to go all out with inimitable comedic style, front and centre, without turning into a borderline offensive caricature. Yes, a big part of the joke is how unlikely she is to be a secret agent in the first place but here it feels like good-natured “you give as good as you get” jibes rather than making fun of her as an actress. It’s refreshing and we need more of it from now on (a sequel to this is both inevitable and very welcome).
What’s also great is how the film gives each of its supporting characters a chance to shine, while always remembering to keep McCarthy centre stage. Jason Statham is a particular highlight as the hilariously self-important Agent Rick Ford who is always trying to one-up everyone else in terms of achievements and general badassery – “I once drove a car off a freeway, on top of a train, while it was on fire… Not the car… *I* was on fire” he gloats – and you can tell he’s having a lot of fun poking at at his usually po-faced action persona.
Jude Law is perfectly cast as the suave, self-involved Agent Fine who feels like he took the role as a way to play Bond without actually ever playing him. The cast of these two leading men is another example of how the film subverts expectations. Then there’s Miranda Hart, plucked from British TV fandom to big-screen Hollywood fame and her style will be all too familiar if you know her work on the British small screen with lots of her falling over and jokes about her height and accent. It works to a point here but can overbear sometimes.
To top off the cavalcade of jokes and slapstick, there’s the most surprising element of all: the action. It’s genuinely very well done, slick and entertaining on its own action rights, full of well-choreographed car chases, shootouts and knife fights that helps elevate the film above other, similar spy comedies. Okay, it’s not exactly The Raid but there’s something to be said for this type of film that both delivers on the comedy and action in pretty much equal measure.
Not since Bridesmaids has a film given us McCarthy on her best form; endearing, charismatic and wonderfully silly all at once. And she’s surrounded by great supporting actors all upping their game for a big, brash Hollywood comedy that’s firing on almost all cylinders. Is the plot the most surprising thing in the world? No. And occasionally it’s a little too fond of the vulgarity for its own good. But ultimately its heart, wit and comedic timing wins out, making for one of the most consistently funny Hollywood comedies in ages.