Spies Like Us
Spy (2015): 8 out of 10: A CIA assistant (Melissa McCarthy) finds herself in the field after the agent she was assisting (Jude Law) is killed on assignment by a big bad (Rose Byrne) who has a list of known CIA agents and a suitcase nuke.
The Good: Unless Ghostbusters (2016) turns out to be a lot better than the trailer would indicate, this is the most successful collaboration between writer director Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy. (Full disclosure I have not seen The Heat with McCarthy and Sandra Bullock either) (Even fuller disclosure. Before writing this review, I had never even heard of The Heat Starring Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock.)
There is an awful lot of fun and funny touches in Spy, but one of the most surprising is how good a spy film it is. McCarthy dressed as a frumpy middle-aged midwestern tourist with a cat sweater is exactly how a spy in real life would dress. Leave it to the silly gross out comedy to know more about spy craft than the entire James Bond oeuvre.
The way the field agents work hand in hand with thier handlers is another example of Spy being closer to real life than so called serious espionage films. Real life espionage is a team effort. There are no Lone Rangers in the field.
There is a lot of good here. Spy is a genuinely funny film from beginning to end. I love the fact that Rose Byrne’s baddie is both incapable of remembering her henchman’s names and is horribly (and amazing) mean to the same henchman and other staff. It goes from a running gag to an actual plot point as McCarthy is able to infiltrate Byrne’s organization because bluntly she can’t keep staff and is desperate for help.
Compare Byrne to megalomaniac boss Daniel Radcliffe remembering his henchman’s names in The Lost City. There I was noting “Which is so out of character with bad guys in movies, they never really take the time to get to know thier henchman” and here I am a few movies later with the most glorious of examples that is not just played for some well-earned laughs but has actual consequences.
Another favorite trope of mine is the stupid character. Take Cersei from Game of Thrones, for example. She isn’t stupid, per se… but she is not as smart as she thinks she is. That is what is interesting. A stupid character who knows he is stupid is boring. A stupid character who thinks he is smart can be very funny indeed. So we have Jason Statham as Rick Ford. Foul-mouthed, crazy, with no sense of reality. He thinks the CIA has a Face/Off machine because a few of his co-workers convinced him it was real. He falls for some simpleminded tricks and he has completely unrelatable “hero” back stories. But it is Jason Statham. I love Jason Statham in anything. (Well, almost anything… In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale is awful and I am not rushing out to see Gnomeo & Juliet. But my statement still stands.)
The Bad: Sure, there are some jokes that fall flat and while Feig does not overly do the bodily function jokes this time around, they make an occasional visit. In addition, I am not a real Melissa McCarthy fan, though I find her pleasant enough in this. No, the thing I was thinking during Spy was why can’t Feig (and yes McCarthy) just make a real Spy film? You already have a much better theme song (Who Can You Trust) than Spectre did.
Not just does McCarthy show proper trigger discipline and handling throughout the movie, but Jude Law’s character’s apparent lack of the same is the inciting incident. Poor HR from the bad guys is another major plot point ignored by so called “real” spy films. (I have pointed out on numerous occasions if your organization routinely kills its underlings capriciously, people are going to stop showing up for work. I am looking your way Viola Davis in Suicide Squad.)
So I guess if you are going to get so many things right, it would have been nice to make a spy film that does not depend on a smitten 50 Cent lending his helicopter.
The Ugly: Morena Baccarin is criminally under used in the movie. Don’t give me sexy femme fatale Morena Baccarin and then leave her off screen for days at a time. More Morena Baccarin. That is all.
In Conclusion: In Spy a genuinely funny comedy and an on point spy film meet. Better than some of the recent Bond or Bourne outings. Spy is a pleasant surprise from both McCarthy and Feig.