The new movie Spy sees Melissa McCarthy take a leading role role for the first time in her career. Over the last decade, she has shown that she is a fine comedy actor on television and in a Series of hugely successful films. Her scene stealing support performances in Bridesmaids and The Heat has led her to this point. Can she deliver as the headline act?
Susan (Melissa McCarthy) is a desk bound agent within the comms centre of the CIA. She is the mission support for super spy Bradley (Jude Law). During a mission to locate a rogue nuclear device which is in the hands of terrorists, things do not go too smoothly resulting in an early bath for Bradley. With the threat of an imminent attack still present and all the principal CIA operatives known to the terrorist leader Rayna Boyanov(Rose Byrne) it is time for Susan to step up and take on the role of a field agent.
The tone is set from the start in the extended pre titles sequence. Bradley is channeling Roger Moore era Bond with the tuxedo and the inane one liners while dispatching bad guys with ease. Back at base, Susan is directing the operation while a vermin outbreak occurs in the basement office. It’s a good blend of stylish action and screwball comedy. At the conclusion of the scene, the titles kick in and we are presented with the most Bond like sequence you will see this year (until SPECTRE of course) replete with a bombastic title song.
The film appears tailor made for McCarthy as it enables her to take on a number of different roles and play around with them. McCarthy’s past collaborations with Paul Feig has obviously fostered a good understanding between them and the character of Susan is all the better for it. In a recent interview, Feig revealed that the role wasnt written with McCarthy in mind and he wasn’t expecting her to take it on due to other commitments. Now it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the part.
Essentially Susan is called upon to go undercover which involves taking on different personas each time. This allows McCarthy to tailor the individual character traits to the best comic effect. The characters are all frumpy middle aged women each more ridiculous than the last. It leads to some very funny moments. To the film’s credit, it shies away from some of the vulgar and nasty and over the top characters McCarthy has been asked to play. Here she is a more likable person who despite being in the spy game has none of the traits linked to the job.
A lot of the dialogue, especially the extensive use of expletives, feels like it came out of improvisation rather than straight off of the page. This aspect of the production is an aspect that Feig has championed in the past. Here it works really well.
The revelation here is the performance from Jason Statham. He has taken on roles before that has a humorous side to his character, notably in the Crank films and his work for Guy Ritchie. In Spy he basically has a go at every action role he has ever done. Here his character is a tough talking, macho throwback who thinks he is the best spy in the world. In reality, he is nothing like it. Statham plays him totally straight and delivers his increasing ludicrous lines without even a hint of self depreciation.
Alongside him are some equally great performances. Allison Janney as Susan’s boss at the CIA shows impeccable comic timing in her delivery of put downs. I’ve been a fan of her’s since The West Wing and she always does splendid work in even the smallest of roles. Jude Law could do the suave spy role in his sleep. He is a comfortable screen presence and has the physical ability to ensure that the action scenes appear effortless.
Rose Byrne plays against type in her portrayal of the foul mouthed Bulgarian baddie. With a cut glass English accent (never explained in the film), she obviously had a lot of fun hamming it up in the role. In a relatively minor role Peter Serafinowicz, as Aldo the Italian CIA operative, is good. He does a stereotypical Italian male more concerned with the female form than catching the bad guy. His big scene with McCarthy is hilarious. They are both tied up and through a series of rather questionable maneuvers he tries to free her.
For films that spoof a genre the problem can be that the joke wears a bit thin after a while and the movie outlasts its welcome. Spy avoids this with a swift pace and some very well executed set pieces. To help keep interest up, we get Susan interacting one to one with other characters for short periods. This means that there is little chance for the audience to tire of any one performance.
The themes and the content are also a factor in keeping us entertained. The dialogue is more adult in nature earning the film a 15 certificate in the U.K. It makes a pleasant change from all the films cut down the content to a single fuck in order to get the 12A rating. It has been demonstrated that if a film is good enough there is a market for it. Spy has proven this having topped the box office charts on both sides of the Atlantic and proved to be a major hit in almost every other territory.
Be sure to stay for the credits at the end of the movie as there is a two part gag which is worth waiting for.
Overall, a highly enjoyable comedy with a really strong central performance. Recommended.