Mark Reviews Movies

Spy

SPY

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Paul Feig

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Allison Janney, Peter Serafinowicz, Bobby Cannavale

MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity)

Running Time: 2:00

Release Date: 6/5/15


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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 4, 2015

Spy is amusing enough. I hesitate slightly here, because I am of two minds on that opening sentence. On the one hand, it could simply be a declarative statement. The film is amusing to one degree or another that, in turn, translates to its success. On the other hand, perhaps there's a mild sense of doubt to that statement, as if the sentence should be followed after a brief pause with the phrase, "I guess."

I am of two minds on the film itself, so perhaps there really is no answer as to how to read that opening sentence. I am, as the old saying goes, on the fence on the matter, but it feels as if my center of gravity while balancing on that figurative fence is leaning slightly toward the positive side of things. I guess.

Perhaps my own conflict is a reflection of the film's own conflicting feelings about its main character. She's a CIA agent who works as a virtual handler of sorts for an agent in the field. She sits behind her computer terminal with a first-person view of the spy's activities and whatever information the agent may need on another monitor, whether it be thermal imaging from a satellite to let the agent know that there are bad guys with guns around a corner or access to the criminal database to identify some new contact discovered on a mission.

She is also, it turns out, quite capable herself. Her boss watches a video of her training with disbelief, as the seemingly mousy woman fires round after round into targets and takes down her trainer in the haze of adrenaline. The woman is played by Melissa McCarthy, and after a series of roles that seemed more interested in the abrasive and klutzy sides of the actress' range, it's a bit refreshing to see her play someone who is relatively well-adjusted—aside from the whole thing about her tackling the trainer, of course.

Since it is McCarthy, though, the film has difficultly completely divorcing itself from the more familiar side of the actress. Her character still occasionally bumbles her way through some situations, and there's a section of the film where McCarthy's Susan Cooper has to play up her aggressive side in order to fool a villain into believing she's a hard-edged security professional. On the other side of the argument, though, there is the fact that these moments are aberrations for the character in writer/director Paul Feig's screenplay. She's neither a bumbling fool nor a tough-as-nails misanthrope. She's just a little in over her head, so we take it as a given that she's going to stumble every so often.

Maybe my hesitation isn't so much a conflict with the character, then. Perhaps it has something to do with the plot, which sees Cooper involved in a mission to track down a rogue nuclear weapon. After the villainous Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) reveals to Cooper's special-agent charge Bradley Fine (Jude Law) that she knows the identity of every covert CIA agent in the field, Cooper suggests that she be assigned to finding the people involved in the sale of the nuke.

We get the usual globe-trotting and fights and chases (The film's James Bond-esque opening credits prepare us for such things). It's the basic stuff. Then again, it doesn't matter, because the plot exists to get us from one joke to the next. Even then, there are some odd non sequiturs (such as the existence of bats in the ceiling at CIA headquarters) that make us think we shouldn't even care about the plot as a joke-launching machine. Feig and his cast do a consistent job in giving us the gags even when the plot has come to complete standstill.

The cast is the one element that isn't up for debate. We've already touched upon the virtues of McCarthy's performance. Law is suave and dapper as a makeshift Bond type. Jason Statham shows some surprisingly sharp comedic chops as a dunderhead of a field agent who actually believes the ridiculous job-related stories he weaves (He says that he's immune to almost 200 different types of poison because of that one time he ingested them all at once). Byrne is very funny in her understated delivery of insults that become more and more opaque as the film progresses (from criticizing a dress to just outright calling Cooper names with the same intonation). Allison Janney plays the no-nonsense boss, and Miranda Hart plays Cooper's overwhelmed friend/co-worker (It's a pleasant change of pace to see a strong lineup of women in these roles).

Maybe the doubt comes simply from the fact that the jokes here are just, well, amusing enough. They're repetitive, yes, but thanks to the cast performing and delivering them, they're also reliable.

The tone is steady, even though Feig does succumb to sporadic bits of easy gross humor, such as when Cooper accidentally defiles the corpse of a bad guy she inadvertently sent plummeting to his death. Still, that gag kind of works because of the mounting dread with which McCarthy plays it. The same can be said of pretty much all of the repeated jokes. Byrne sells the verbal barbs every time (and it's often that we get them), and Statham rambles with deadpan precision about his adventures. A grope-happy Italian contact is more an issue of writing than of Peter Serafinowicz' relatively innocuous portrayal of a serial sexual harasser, which is kind of the problem with the character.

There's a fairly easy rule to follow when reviewing a comedy: Did it make you laugh? Yes, Spy did make me laugh, so that means it's good. I guess.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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