There’s a special something about Melissa McCarthy as an actor and comedian. Even when she stars in the likes of Tammy and Identity Thief audiences show up in droves as critics scowl in disgust, hoping to see more from an actor many agree is more talented than merely playing an overweight character that falls down and spouts vulgarity for laughs. This, however, has been the evolutionary “want” for McCarthy, who made us howl with laughter in Bridesmaids all the way to an Oscar nomination, but hasn’t really evolved since, outside of her solid, but brief appearance in the under-appreciated St. Vincent.
Now, back with writer/director Paul Feig, who directed both Bridesmaids and The Heat, comes the action-comedy Spy, which shows the cinematic evolution of McCarthy is finally becoming a reality. Spy is not without its flaws, but in terms of character, McCarthy’s Susan Cooper, a desk-bound CIA analyst-turned-field-agent, doesn’t depend so much on falling down (though it does happen) or the insults of others (though it does happen) to make up her character.
In fact, McCarthy is given room to create a believable enough character that when faced with insults that are meant to serve as punchlines they are received merely as insults. As much as this may hurt the comedic value of the movie overall, it actually serves up a bit of dramatic value and shows McCarthy doesn’t need to play a vulgar buffoon as she portrayed in Identity Thief, The Heat and Tammy. Is it so hard to believe she can play an actual character in a comedy, a human with feelings, emotions and depth? A character that not only offers moments of laughter, but one audiences will root for because they relate and not out of shame or pity?
First introduced as the voice on the other end of the line, Susan Cooper occupies a desk at the vermin-infested CIA headquarters, helping field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) navigate his missions, watching his back and calling in drone strikes when necessary. However, once it’s revealed arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne in yet another hilarious performance) has obtained the identities of all of the CIA’s field agents, Cooper is called into action as she is unknown to the enemy and must help stop the sale of a nuclear weapon to the film’s biggest baddie, Sergio De Luca (Bobby Cannavale).
Playing to the film’s R-rating, Feig packs Spy with more violent flair than the Bond films it frequently spoofs (including it’s opening titles complete with silhouettes in combat). The film’s use of swearing isn’t just a flurry of F-bombs, particularly thanks to the fact McCarthy isn’t playing a white trash character with a limited vocabulary. It even plays cute with British cursing such as the use of the word “twat”, which leads us to Jason Statham.
Statham plays Rick Ford, a hard-charging, egotistical CIA cowboy prone to embellishing his in-the-field successes such as the time his left arm was ripped off and he reattached it with his right. Statham clearly relishes the opportunity to essentially spoof every character he’s ever played up to and including Turkish and Bacon from Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. His character does, however, speak to a few of the film’s problems, chiefly knowing when enough is enough.
Feig, along with many of today’s comedy directors, has such a hard time editing his films, believing every punchline and joke must remain rather than be relegated to the alternate and deleted scenes special feature on the Blu-ray. This includes Rick’s embellishments, Susan’s flurry of insults thrown in Boyanov’s face, Peter Serafinowicz‘s incessant coquettish behavior and cameo appearances by McCarthy’s husband (Ben Falcone) and throwaway moments such as Susan’s appreciation for that new car smell. This isn’t to say these moments aren’t necessarily funny, it’s simply to say less is more and there’s no reason for Spy to be two hours long.
If Feig wanted to give us more, give us more Bobby Cannavale who’s given little to nothing to do or come up with something more to give Miranda Hart to do other than flit around (though her final moments are some of the film’s best and I loved the 50 Cent cameo). That said, this movie doesn’t need more, it just needed a bit less and boy would it have hummed had it been trimmed down to a lean 105 minutes or so.