By Michael Arruda
If I laugh a lot during a comedy, that’s usually a good sign, and SPY (2015), the latest comedy starring Melissa McCarthy, made me laugh quite a bit.
In SPY, Melissa McCarthy plays a desk bound CIA agent named Susan Cooper who spends her days speaking into the headset of suave CIA agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law), providing him with intel when he’s in the field, and generally saving his butt on a regular basis. Of course, since he’s drop dead handsome and she’s overweight and not model-pretty, she’s secretly in love with him, and he pays her no attention.
When Fine is killed in the field by the villainous Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), who reveals to the CIA that she knows the identities of all their agents, it prompts CIA director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) to make the unusual decision of sending in an agent Rayna and her people have no chance of recognizing. Crocker, of course, selects Susan, who aggressively volunteers for the assignment because she wants to seek revenge for Bradley’s death.
This decision infuriates fellow agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) who wants the assignment for himself, and when he doesn’t get it, he quits and goes rogue, shadowing Susan in the field, constantly reminding her that she’s not good enough to get the job done, and that he’s going to get it done on his own.
Of course, the “job” involves locating a nuclear weapon, which Rayna has somewhere in her possession, and she plans to sell it to the highest terrorist bidder.
So, Susan sets out to save the world, and with the help of her best friend and fellow agent Nancy (Miranda Hart) who at first is on a headset back at headquarters, supplying Susan with valuable information but eventually joins Susan in the field, she spends the rest of the movie trying to infiltrate Rayna’s organization so she can find the bomb before Rayna sells it to terrorists.
The plot of SPY is completely inane, but you don’t see this movie because of its plot. You see it because of Melissa McCarthy, who happens to be one of the funniest people working in movies today.
McCarthy enjoys a lot of side-splitting moments here in SPY. She’s funny early on as the shy, super intelligent desk agent who goes unnoticed and without respect. There’s a hilarious scene where she’s berated by her boss Elaine because she has pink eye. Later when she’s in the field she shows off her physical comedy skills, and towards the end of the movie, she goes into full-fledged over-the-top Melissa McCarthy mode as Susan becomes a take-charge save-the-world agent who has to rely on every aspect of her being to get the job done. McCarthy has some of her funniest moments in these latter scenes.
And while McCarthy gets to play off co-stars Jude Law and Jason Statham with amiable results, she doesn’t share quite as much chemistry with them as she did with Sandra Bullock in the hit film from two summers ago THE HEAT (2013). In THE HEAT, Bullock played a complete character who held her own with McCarthy. Here in SPY, both Law and Statham play caricatures rather than characters, and so their scenes with McCarthy don’t resonate as well.
That being said, Jason Statham is really funny throughout this movie, and he has some of the funniest bits in the film. He plays super tough agent Rick Ford, a guy who believes he’s invulnerable. Trouble is, he can’t seem to stop telling people just how invulnerable he is. The scene where he spouts off all the ways he has cheated death is one of the more hilarious moments in the film and had me laughing out loud.
Jude Law is less interesting as Agent Bradley Fine, a character that is a one joke caricature of the dashing handsome spy. Miranda Hart fares better as Susan’s friend and co-worker Nancy. The scene early on where the two of them go out for a drink at a bar and encounter a beautiful operative who they’re insanely jealous of is priceless. And later, when Nancy joins Susan in the field, they’re pretty funny together, more so than when McCarthy pairs with Statham or Law.
Allison Janney makes for a convincing hard-ass CIA director. Rose Byrne as the Cruella-De Vil-ish Rayna Boyanov is okay, although it’s a one-note performance. Boyanov is the spoiled rich girl gone wrong. Yawn. Boyanov is also the phoniest character in the entire movie, and she becomes harder to take as the movie goes along. I enjoyed Byrne much more when she played Renai Lambert, the mother in the first two INSIDIOUS movies.
Writer/director Paul Feig, who directed earlier McCarthy hits BRIDESMAIDS (2011) and THE HEAT (2013) infuses this one with lots of oomph, energy, and style. The opening credits sequence is right out of a James Bond movie, specifically the recent Daniel Craig Bond films. The action sequences here are decent. While the chase scenes are average and played strictly for laughs, the fight scenes actually look pretty good. They even sport some realistic blood.
More importantly, the humor remains sharp for most of the movie. McCarthy stays funny throughout, and Jason Statham surprisingly steals nearly every scene he’s in.
It’s not until the third act of the film that SPY staggers, running out of steam for the simple reason that it goes on too long. A running time of 120 minutes for this kind of comedy is a bit much. At this length, it’s difficult to sustain the laughs, and SPY definitely struggles with this. Shave off about 20 minutes and the comedy would have worked better.
As it is, it reaches the point where you realize that what you’re watching has stopped being funny and has delved head-first into mindless silliness. There are way too many plot twists near the end, and rather than appear clever, they come off as “we’re not sure how to end this movie so we’ll keep on going till we get it right.” The film definitely could have used a tighter ending.
SPY still works though. I laughed throughout most of the movie, and even though it deteriorates somewhat towards the end, it wasn’t enough to stop me from liking it.
Melissa McCarthy is hilarious, and she receives fine support from Jason Statham, who’s surprisingly funny for most of the movie, and from Miranda Hart as her friend and co-worker Nancy. McCarthy is one of the funniest actors working in film today, and she’s the main reason to see SPY. I can’t wait to see what she does next.