Melissa for all seasons

Spy is a thoroughly enjoyable spy movie spoof dominated by Melissa McCarthy. I’d say she’s a more complex character this time, a sort of female Walter Mitty who emerges from the CIA headquarters basement to become a kick-ass agent in the field when an unknown face is needed, morphing from competent but sweet and meek, to surprised at meeting the challenge so well, to something like her old threatening, foul-mouthed self, with the ace martial arts skills to back up her threats this time.

McCarthy is well backed up, but still stands alone. She isn’t part of a comic team as in Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids, but is made funnier, and makes others funny, by creating an atmosphere for a “straight” supporting cast including the likes of Jude Law, at his most suave and glamorous as ace agent Bradley Fine, and Jason Statham, as rogue agent Rick Ford. Susan Cooper (McCarthy) — who’ll adopt several fake identities later — at first backs up Fine, using the elaborate electronic methods introduced to a (gullible?) audience with the “Bourne” movies. Later “Coop” has to go to Europe with comically unflattering fake ID to short-circuit a maniacal nuclear bomb deal involving Rose Byrne’s snobbish and bitchy Bulgarian princess. At Langley, Allison Janney plays a specifically humorless boss, Elaine Crocker, who resembles Joan Allen’s stiff Bourne character, Pamela Landy.  Spy movies verge on the absurd; they just require a little push to become quite laughable.

Feig’s new movie has many ingenious action sequences, right from the start. Maybe this isn’t a big budget action dazzler, but it can hold its own, with big sequences in Paris, Budapest, and the Italian lake district. The producers at least manage to do a casino sequence and spring for helicopters and special effects with moments almost worthy of the Bourne extravaganzas. Feig did the writing, which besides lots of funny lines, manages to play nicely with McCarthy’s girth and superficial frumpiness. To begin with, it’s Coop’s lack of known action chops or visibility that make her an ideal undercover agent to replace the blown Fine.

As for Statham’s Rick Ford, he’s a macho maverick who won’t trust Coop to do the job, but winds up repeatedly getting in the way and having to be saved himself. Coop’s fake identities (with wig and outfit to match) run counter to the glamour associated with spying. But then when she begins to fight, oh boy. And these combat scenes, again, aren’t buffoonish, but hold up in comparison with thrillers: they’re only funny because it’s Melissa McCarthy kicking the ass.

Among minor but key and flashily attired characters is Bobby Cannavale as evil peacock Sergio De Luca, whose Rolls Royce has something surprising in the boot. Peter Serafinowicz as salacious Italian driver and backup man Aldo and Miranda Hart as Nancy, Coop’s CIA office mate, are among a number of Brits in the cast, led by Law, who help add flavor and rhythm to the repartee. For hip hop glam there’s 50 Cent, adored by Nancy, who calls him “50 Cent Piece.”

This film may not have quite the level of laughs of some of Melissa McCarthy’s earlier outings, but Feig’s dialogue is witty enough to keep you paying attention at every moment.   Melissa’s a more rich and appealing character, and the adoption of spy actioner to plump female comedian is brilliant. It works so well for me because this time, the character McCarthy plays blooms, and when the F-words already spewing from Statham (and more and more from Rayna) begin also pouring out of Coop’s mouth, it’s not malice or hostility but the heat of dangerous action and vicious combat that justify it.  At last I “get” her and like her.  What a talent! And she and Feig are a marriage made in heaven.


Film Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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