Melissa McCarthy is fat, loud, and unapologetic to be so. She’s over-the-top ridiculous, getting into all sorts of pratfalls in between long-winded rants.
WE GET IT.
Bridesmaids was the only McCarthy film I’ve ever seen, but I’m still sick to death of her because there’s no avoiding her. McCarthy has played the exact same character in so many films, all of which have gotten so many trailers and commercials. She is ubiquitous. She is unavoidable. She is annoying as fuck.
And yes, I know how rare it is for a woman to find such massive success in a chauvinist industry like modern cinema, especially when the woman in question doesn’t exactly fit the industry’s usual standards of beauty. But when an actress keeps getting typecast as a clown, it’s a lot harder to take her seriously as a trailblazer for gender equality. Also, before anyone tells me that McCarthy can only take the roles she’s given, I’d like to point out that when McCarthy got the chance to star in a script that she co-wrote with director and husband Ben Falcone, we got Tammy. In other words, we got more of the same.
It’s hard for me to support an actor who’s shown such limited range, I can’t laugh at a comedian who only tells the same jokes over and over again, and when the actor has been so overexposed in umpteen promos, why should I care? It’s the same problem that I have with Kevin James: We’ve seen the same schtick from him over and over again, and Hollywood’s bright idea of keeping him fresh is to air hundreds and hundreds of commercials and trailers showing him do the exact same thing in movie after movie. Some others might put Zach Galifianakis in the same category, but at least he had the underseen It’s Kind of a Funny Story to show that he really did have some range.
Anyway, I was perfectly happy to go the rest of my life without ever seeing another Melissa McCarthy film, at least until she decides to do something different. But then Spy came out to brilliant reviews, plus the chance to see Jude Law and Jason Statham make fun of themselves. How could I refuse?
This film is about a CIA that operates with modern American technology (or at least a heightened version of it). After all, if we’ve got satellites and drones to run constant surveillance and coordinate missile strikes, why not bring that to the field? Thus we have Melissa McCarthy running an underground computer in Langley, giving directions to field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) over an earpiece. This way, McCarthy can tell the secret agent exactly how many hostiles are coming from which direction, and where to run when an escape becomes necessary.
On another level, it works beautifully as a parody of a spy action thriller. Fine looks and acts like a superhuman right out of a Bond film (especially since he’s being played by Jude freaking Law), but we the audience know that’s only because he’s playing with cheat codes. Because really, how else would our hero know exactly how many hostile targets were right around that blind corner?
Anyway, our villain for tonight is Rayna Boyanov, played by Rose Byrne. She’s got her hands on a compact nuke that she plans to sell to some terrorist organization. Fine is sent in to take her out, except that Rayna has somehow learned the identities of every top CIA agent and she’s been plotting three steps ahead. So Fine has been taken out of play, and pretty much everyone else in the CIA has been marked. This leaves the Agency with few options, since they need someone to investigate the nuke sale without getting recognized.
Naturally, this means that McCarthy is getting out into the field.
Just to get this out of the way: Yes, there are moments when McCarthy’s familiar schtick gets annoying. In particular, pretty much any time when she’s sitting down to dinner with another character, it’s incredibly painful. Other times — especially late in the second act — she resorts to profanity-laden rants that just go on and on and on. The shock humor is effective at first, but it wears off very quickly.
Then there’s the matter of the action scenes. We eventually see that McCarthy is one hell of a fighter when she’s sufficiently provoked, which leaves a huge and barely-addressed plot hole regarding why she wasn’t a field agent to begin with. Perhaps more prominently, it leaves the question of how a woman of McCarthy’s stature could bust out moves straight from Black Widow’s playbook.
The answer, naturally, is that of course McCarthy is more physically capable and invulnerable from harm than her outer appearance would suggest. That’s just part of her gimmick. Moreover, this is a comedy. A spy action parody, no less. In that context, the absurd sight of a 200-pound woman at 5’2″ kicking all sorts of ass makes perfect sense. And if some of the fights are done by an obvious stunt double, so much the better.
Speaking of which, the action scenes in this movie are far more impressive than I had expected. The fight scenes have some overhead shots that I found questionable, but writer/director Paul Feig shows a remarkable flair for copying the typical summer blockbuster style in a way that helps the genre parody land effectively. It also helps that Feig uses slo-mo and speed-ramping in all the right ways.
Getting back to McCarthy, she really was the perfect protagonist for a spy movie parody. Not just because she’s a woman in a male-dominated genre and not just because she’s the last person anyone would ever suspect of being a spy (which makes her the best candidate for the job, funnily enough). No, McCarthy brings the spy parody to a new level because she’s in genuine awe of everything going on around her. Seriously, think about it: James Bond gets to travel all over the world, visiting the most gorgeous and exotic locations with supremely advanced gadgetry in tow, and when was the last time anyone in a Bond movie ever got to say how fucking awesome that is? Because that’s exactly what McCartney does, just before she sets up shop in a run-down hovel in Paris, with chloroformed hemorrhoid wipes in her bag because no one will let her have a hoverboard.
That said, I’d dare say that the movie took the piss out of McCarthy a time too many, and the joke of finding new ways for the CIA to humiliate her wore out pretty quickly. Additionally, there’s a very awkward scene in which McCarthy is sharing drinks with her coworker/best friend (Nancy, played by Miranda Hart) and the two of them share their jealousies about perfect and beautiful field agent Karen Walker (Morena Baccarin). I really do hate to see women acting in such a catty and superficial manner, especially in a film that otherwise made female empowerment a very high priority.
Incidentally, while I absolutely love the notion of watching Morena Baccarin play a gorgeous super-spy, that made it all the more disappointing when she only got maybe two minutes of screen time. Plus a plot reveal that anyone could’ve seen coming from a mile away. Such a waste.
Speaking of the supporting cast, Hart did a fair job of playing sidekick to McCarthy and making the lead actress look good. 50 Cent shows up for a cameo, fuck if I could tell you why. Allison Janney plays the CIA boss, and I can’t remember the last time she played a role without phoning it in. Peter Serafinowicz milks every second of screen time as a hopeless lecher. Ditto for Zach Woods (he of In the Loop fame), who has the most laughably protracted death scene since Nick Bottom played Pyramus. Bobby Cannavale does a decent job playing a baddie. There’s also Nargis Fakhri, a relative newcomer who turns in a brief yet memorable performance as a mysterious and beautiful stranger. I look forward to seeing her work in the future.
Then we have Jude Law, who exceeds all expectations in his ability to play a loving spy parody. The guy does a fantastic job of playing a super-spy archetype in such a way that we can laugh at the tropes and one-liners while still respecting the character as a bona fide badass. By a similar token, Rose Byrne took the supervillain archetype and ran with it full tilt. Not only does she look drop-dead gorgeous as an extremely vain woman who puts in so much effort to literally look like a million bucks, but Byrne seems to delight in chewing up the scenery as a woman with absolutely no value for human life. Every line delivery is arch in a way that is so much fun to watch.
Yet all of these actors bow before the true star of this movie: Jason. Fucking. Statham.
Every scene, every line, every word out of Statham’s mouth had me in stitches. Statham talks for days about all the crazy over-the-top action film shit his character’s done, and he delivers all that hyperbole with a perfectly straight face. It’s comedy gold. I don’t know how he did it, but the joke never, ever got old. I love how Statham has gotten to this point where he knows he’s paid his dues as an action star and he doesn’t have a damn thing to prove to anyone, so he can take that persona and have fun with it (see also: Furious 7). The joke works because after all the batshit insane things we’ve seen Statham do over the course of his filmography, it’s really not that difficult to picture him getting his arm torn off and then reattaching it with his other arm. And that joke still doesn’t land here, because I can’t deliver it with the stone-cold intensity that Statham keeps delivering time after time. Seriously, he’s worth the price of admission by himself.
Spy is hardly a perfect film, and I’m still tired of McCarthy settling for “one-trick pony” status. Yet her usual schtick works surprisingly well in the premise, and she’s surrounded by a solid leading cast. Between McCarthy, Byrne, and Statham, you’ve got more than enough great comedy to be worth the time and ticket price. Moreover, Feig crafted a spy parody that’s loving enough yet sharp enough to make for a great ride. Definitely give it a look.