Allison Janney and Melissa McCarthy in 'Spy'
Image: Larry Horricks / Twentieth Century Fox

Allison Janney and Melissa McCarthy in 'Spy'

Spy, the latest film from director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy, is a joy that elicits gasps and laughs from the audience in equal measure. There are some abyssal points—the movie sometimes seems spliced with clips of the fake Jack Black movie from the beginning of Tropic Thunder, The Fatties: Fart 2. But on the whole, it’s as if you met someone in your local Turkish bath who likes all the books you like, but fills pauses in the conversation by deeply picking his or her nose.

Spy is the story of CIA analyst Susan Cooper (McCarthy)—at first glance, a desk-bound cat lady sort of like the very lipsticked sassy dispatcher in the television show Criminal Minds. Cooper sits in headquarters, giving support to the familiar tuxedoed Bond knock-off, here named Bradley Fine (played by an oddly pink-lipped and American-accent-sporting Jude Law).

Fine gets the glory, but he is nothing without Cooper. She is desperately in love with him. He’s too dumb to notice.

If you think you know where this is headed, you’re wrong. (Unless you guessed right, which, duh, I’m not going to tell you here.) Fine and Cooper are tracking a missing nuclear bomb. They run into trouble—femme fatale Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne)—who knows all the CIA’s top agents by sight. This requires a non-top agent.

Finally, Cooper gets her chance.

In spite of everything I’ve just said, Spy is not a spy spoof. We are mercifully spared “jokes” about shaken martinis. There’s not even a whiff of “Cooper, Susan Cooper,” a joke so wilted it does have a smell at this point. Spy is too busy creating its own world, where M resembles a DMV worker and the CIA headquarters has a rat problem, to indulge in cliché. It’s a comedy on its own terms.

Furthermore, it’s not just a comedy, but an action-comedy. The movie works as a spy story. Events unfold at a good pace and sometimes thrill. There are well-orchestrated car chases and knife fights that grab you by the throat. There was some money to spend here, and one gets the sense that Feig (who always wears a tailored suit and tie on set, as a revolt against the L.A. Church of Casual) loved the genre exercise. He gives the music, for example, far more attention than lesser directors would in his position.

And what of our leading lady? McCarthy is at the top of her game here. The woman is not only hilarious, but a good actress. Feig and McCarthy first worked together on Bridesmaids, a hit that garnered McCarthy an Academy Award nomination. I don’t think the nomination was a fluke. She has a broader range than her marketing mix lets on. Far from becoming predictable, she may be just warming up.

Melissa McCarthy in 'Spy'
Image: Larry Horricks / Twentieth Century Fox

Melissa McCarthy in 'Spy'

To paraphrase Karl Rove: Melissa McCarthy, well, she’s an empire now, and when she acts, she creates her own realities.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt having a top-notch supporting cast. Miranda Hart is instantly lovable as McCarthy’s gangly girlfriend (whose affections for a certain rapper popular in the early ’00s provide a suspenseful subplot). Peter Serafinowicz makes acting look easy in a good way, and it’s funny to see the often reserved Englishman masquerading as an over the top Italian lothario named Aldo. And one of my favorite character actors, Bobby Cannavale, makes a welcome albeit minor appearance as a racketeer. (Patience, Bobby. Your time is coming. The stars will soon be aligned.)

As talented as that group is, Jason Statham nearly steals the show from them all. He does nothing here that he wouldn't do in Snatch or any other movie. Jason Statham’s secret is like the Hulk’s in The Avengers. He’s always a comedic actor. We should consider every day lost in which we have not thought about Jason Statham at least once.

Still, there are the boogers I alluded to earlier. At times, Spy slips from parody to self-parody. Not in a knowing, oh-so-cool postmodern kind of way—rather, there are times when the movie stops making jokes and instead becomes one. Flat notes like “Oi! These dead f***ers are s****** themselves!” (followed by a fart noise) are cringe inducing. Not because they’re in bad taste (although they are), but because we all thought we were watching a better movie.

Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy in 'Spy'
Image: Larry Horricks / Twentieth Century Fox

Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy in 'Spy'

In fact, the f-bomb gets dropped so often in this movie it becomes distracting (that’s coming from someone who was raised on an Irish whaling vessel, by the way). Eventually, that part of the movie just becomes like a science fiction film where you never find out quite why the alien species only eat whilst standing on their heads (and no fish on Fridays).

Most of the time, though, Spy is a hilarious and well-crafted film. Just consider it one for your inner Luther, not for your inner Calvin.

Caveat Spectator

Don’t take your kids! Don’t let anyone else take their kids. Stand outside local theaters, watching for anyone who might look like a kid. Make sure they don’t go in. Language is the biggest thing here—many, many, many uses of the f-word, as well as everything else. There are some inappropriate sexual innuendoes and comments. Some characters fondle McCarthy’s body quite inappropriately (although this is considered inappropriate by those characters in the world of the film). There is a dimly lit silhouette of someone performing oral sex. There is an extremely brief but jarring picture of a man’s genitals. If you would rather not watch any of that, don’t take yourself either.

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Timothy Wainwright's writing has been featured in The Atlantic, CT, and RealClearMarkets. He tweets hereand blogs here.

Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Average Rating
(7 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
R (For language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity.)
Directed By
Paul Feig
Run Time
2 hours
Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jude Law
Theatre Release
June 05, 2015 by Twentieth Century Fox
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