‘I’ ON CULTURE
Happily, we now have a movie I can really recommend: Spy, starring Melissa McCarthy. In a year in which even the major film franchises have, at best, provided not much better than “sort-of enjoyable entertainment,” this new movie is a real winner. There are more laughs here than in the last few so-called comedies I have seen. And the movie really works! It is not just a comedy, but an action film, and even that part works, perhaps because McCarthy’s character is an “everywoman,” a regular person caught in the middle of horrendous situations. She is so easy to root for as she faces up to the evil villains.
Susan Cooper (McCarthy) is a desk agent in the rodent-infested basement of the CIA, providing computer backup to sexy CIA agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law, with an American accent), Somehow, her machines allow her to warn him of immediate danger, and ironically, she is the key to his success, although he treats her like an assistant and she is madly in love with him. Then she watches as super-villainess Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) executes him while listing all the names of his fellow CIA agents.
The CIA boss (Allison Janney) sends Cooper to Europe to track Rayna because she has never been in the field and so would not be known. And, of course, almost from the start, things go wrong. Writer-director Paul Feig wisely lets the action speak for itself as McCarthy careens through Europe, actually saving Rayna to get closer (the banter between the two women is hysterical), and eventually stopping all the bad guys. It actually works as an action movie, even while you are roaring with laughter.
McCarthy is a wonderfully gifted clown. She manages to stay in character even as she goes through the worst indignities, making us laugh with her instead of at her. She dominates the film, although a superb supporting cast manages to be so good that they prevent it from descending into the kind of self-indulgent disaster that so many star vehicles become. It accepts the fact that she is large and allows her to complain that every one of her cover identities forces her to look horrible. When she goes her own way, she goes glam and it does work.
She gets exceptional support. Miranda Hart, a well-known comic in Britain, is wonderful as her sidekick. Tall and lanky, she plays a straight-faced Laurel to McCarthy’s Hardy. But she displays a wonderfully honed talent as she winds up in a sub-plot diversion with rapper 50 Cent. Peter Serafinowicz steals scene after scene as an overly romantic Italian agent. His scene in a dungeon with McCarthy is hilarious. Law is good as Fine. Byrne is marvelous as the villain. At the start, she is simply evil, but her ongoing relationship with McCarthy’s character turns into a wonderful bit of “mean girl” type of banter that is delightfully funny. It allows both characters to get some good laughs.
But the real breakout comedy co-star is Jason Statham. His take-off on both himself and all super-agents is hysterical. He is unbelievably obscene when he talks, a total blowhard. He unceasingly describes all the horrible things that have happened to him and to those around him to the point that McCarthy’s character simply responds, “Have you ever thought that all those people around you who died did it to get away from you?” He is also, despite his status, the total klutz in dealing with the opposition, generally rescued by Cooper. He is so good I could see a whole line of comedy movies with him as star, following in the footsteps of Leslie Nielsen.
I enjoyed this movie more than any other I’ve seen this year. It is not perfect, but it is very funny. Be warned: The comedy is often raw, and the language is coarse. But it was easily the quickest two-hour movie around, and I haven’t laughed as hard since Mel Brooks stopped making films. McCarthy is wonderful; the cast is great. Feig has done several female-centered films (Bridesmaids, The Heat), and they have all been very strong.
This is a movie to see. It is worth the price. You will go and laugh and hope for a sequel. And, boy, would I love to see McCarthy and Statham together again.