McCarthy, Feig Shoot To Kill With "Spy"

Comedy guru Paul Feig’s “Spy” ambitiously puts its action movie-isms on equal footing with its humor – a trick that Edgar Wright perfected in 2007 with “Hot Fuzz” – and very nearly pulls it off. Despite being a little long-winded, the film’s quantity-over-quality approach affords star Melissa McCarthy the luxury of both owning the film and sharing the glory with a wonderful supporting cast.

The working relationship between filmmaker and star (“Bridesmaids,” “The Heat”) proves invaluable here, with Feig and McCarthy knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. All of McCarthy’s worst instincts that sank last year’s Feig-less “Tammy” are gone, in their place laser-like vision for both story and jokes. The laughs may be infrequent at first, but do they ever add up.

As an ode to underdogs – and aggressively not a spoof – “Spy” follows the story of Susan Cooper (McCarthy), inconspicuous CIA analyst. As the eye in the sky for suave field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law), Cooper works her magic from behind a desk, forever unassuming and underappreciated.

When Fine – on the hunt for a stolen nuke – is compromised, Cooper volunteers herself for field work and the proverbial shit hits the fan. She’s a dynamo, a one-woman firestorm of savvy and power, even under a plethora of unflattering assumed identities. Better yet, her abilities are never a punchline. They might serve as a set-up to the occasional fight scene, but the sequences featuring Susan Cooper, ass-kicker are as crisply executed as any in the genre.

With eccentric friend and co-worker Nancy (Miranda Hart) in her ear, Susan globe trots and wrecks fools, but not without making friends in some unlikely places. Villain Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) is one of them, with Susan at first ingratiating herself to get closer to her target and then because the two share a bizarre bond. Their dynamic is rich in characterization and deeply enjoyable, made only more so by Byrne’s chameleonic screen presence.

And there are at least two more profoundly memorable characters on hand. If there’s one role in “Spy” written as a punchline, it’s action star Jason Statham as a self-centered rogue agent who functions as his own hypeman. As his stories of his own heroics grow increasingly absurd, McCarthy plays off him with unrestrained glee. At once a celebration and a takedown of the genre, Statham’s character is “Spy” in a nutshell – sharp, knowing, and nonsensical. Often all at once.

But it’s character actor Peter Serafinowicz who might be the film’s secret MVP. As a horndog Italian spy, he gets many of the movie’s best lines and a wonderful send-off that opens up a plethora of possibilities for potential sequels.

Viewers who can forgive the pic’s missteps – a fairly labored cameo in the third act tops the list – will find lots to savor. It’s as fresh as it is funny, a rare combo in these pallid summer months.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: June 5, 2015
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Paul Feig
Screenwriter: Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Miranda Hart, Jason Statham, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, Peter Serafinowicz
MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity)