Starring: Melissa McCarthy (The Heat), Jason Statham (Crank), Rose Byrne (X-Men: First Class), Miranda Hart (Miranda), Allison Janney (Juno), Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine), Peter Serafinowicz (Shaun of the Dead), Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes)
Writer/Director: Paul Feig (Bridesmaids)
Runtime: 2 hours
Release Date: 5 June (US, UK)
I have very mixed feelings about Melissa McCarthy. Sometimes she can be hilarious (Bridesmaids), other times she’s simply tolerable (The Heat), but a lot of the time she’s painfully obnoxious (Identity Thief). Considering a scattershot track record like that, it’s hard for me to go into a movie like Spy with any preconceived notions; it could honestly go either way. Thankfully, Spy goes the right way and delivers a safe but still hilarious action-comedy ride.
Spoofs of the James Bond formula have been around as long as the franchise itself, and from its globe-trotting plot to its opening title sequence, Spy makes no bones about the field it is playing in. The story is pretty generic all around and, save for one well-played plot twist, is also incredibly predictable. But telling a thrilling narrative is clearly not Spy’s main goal. Its goal is to make you laugh, and on that level it succeeds admirably. The plot is mainly an excuse to throw Susan Cooper (McCarthy) into 007-style situations and see what happens, and though some more original narrative ideas could have spiced things up, what they have is perfectly serviceable. The humour is hardly ever insightful or deep, but the laughs come consistently hard and fast, keeping a smile on your face throughout and making the somewhat bloated two-hour runtime fly by.
A big reason why I don’t always like Melissa McCarthy is because the characters she usually plays are loud, brash and don’t know when to shut up. Gratefully, this isn’t the case with Susan Cooper, who’s more sensitive and insecure than her usual characters. She’s clearly a genuinely nice person, and her fits of rage and abuse feel more like a reaction to the situation she’s in rather than a core part of her personality. Instead of her usual abrasive shtick, McCarthy feels a lot more restrained here and that’s for the better, making those moments where she does burst into a flurry of insults that much funnier. Backing her up is a strong supporting cast of actors both comedic and dramatic, and all of them are more than up to the task. Rose Byrne balances threatening and funny very well as main villain Raina, with her condescending comments on McCarthy’s character and a running gag where she forgets people’s names being highlights. Like McCarthy, Miranda Hart sometimes feels like she’s relying on her usual persona but the movie uses her just enough before she gets grading. Jude Law gets the chance he never got to play a 007-style character and he works perfectly in his small but pivotal role, whilst Peter Serafinowicz’s Aldo is amusing if a little one-note at times. The real standout, however, is Jason Statham’s Rick Ford. Playing an exaggerated version of his usual action star image, Statham steals every scene he’s in with his terrifically deadpan performance that turns him from one of the toughest actors of our age into a guaranteed hilarious punchline. He unfortunately feels underutilised, as he drops out of the movie on several occasions (between this and Fast and Furious 7, Statham’s been doing that a lot lately), but that only makes those times when he is on screen that much more golden.
Whilst Paul Feig is clearly a good director of actors and knows how to wring a good verbal joke out, he could stand to put the same amount of effort into the visuals. Spy is certainly the most action-heavy of his films so far but, though the fight choreography is well-handled on both an action and a comedy level, the cinematography and editing feels a little flat during those same scenes. Other than some fun use of slow motion, the film lacks a strong visual identity; it has that same generic feel that a lot of comedies have these days and I’m getting kind of sick of it. Considering Feig’s next project is the Ghostbusters reboot, where design and style matters just as much as the jokes, I certainly think he could stand to get a bit more visually creative when it comes to his directing.
Spy is hardly a game changer for the spy comedy subgenre, but it’s a fun and amusing time nonetheless. If you’re a fan of McCarthy and Feig’s previous films, then you’re probably going to like this one too. It’s not quite in the same league as Bridesmaids, but I’d say it’s a lot better than The Heat. If you’re in the mood for a laugh, it’s certainly worth checking out for Jason Statham’s performance alone; he really is that good and it makes me want to see him do more comedies in the future.
FINAL VERDICT: 7.5/10