Spy is an excellent action/comedy that’s equal parts thrilling and funny (How’s that for a hacky opening line?). It’s hard to pull off an efficient balance when putting together a non-parody example of this delicate genre. More than often, we either get an action movie with a few more chuckles than usual, or we’re presented with a broad comedy that skims on genuine excitement by failing to create exciting action set pieces.
Writer/director Paul Feig has repeatedly proven himself with a deft and unique approach to R-rated comedy with Bridesmaids, and showed audiences that he could handle light action along with comedy with 2013’s underrated The Heat, which apparently worked as an action rehearsal for the balls-to-the-wall set pieces found in Spy. Feig is obviously a big fan of spy films, particularly of the Bond franchise, and proves himself quite adept at framing straight action that goes hand-in-hand with his particular style of banter-based comedy.
That being said, that’s not the main reason why Spy rises above its peers in the genre and why Feig deserves an extra heaping of praise. With Spy, Feig reunites with Melissa McCarthy for the third time in a row, the DeNiro to his Scorsese. Usually, when a portly comedic actor is cast as the protagonist in a fish-out-of-water action/comedy, filmmakers lazily depend on the punchline being the heft and cluelessness of the character. We all know how much the dumbass Paul Blart movies milked that low hanging fruit.
In Spy, McCarthy plays a genuine badass Bond-type who kicks mucho butt and uses her superior intellect to get out of deadly situations. Her looks and unassuming behavior are not the punchline, the extreme and goofy violence and the chest banging machismo found in these movies are. Perhaps for the first time in a big budget action/comedy, all three main parts, the protagonist, the comedy sidekick, and the main villain, are all female. Of course that doesn’t mean I’m recommending you see Spy in theatres as a social duty. I’m recommending it because it’s truly fun, and very, very funny.
McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, an agent who guides suave super spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law) out of deadly situations via earpiece and camera-equipped contact lenses. Think of her as Chloe to Law’s Jack Bauer, with way more access to surveillance equipment and a much bigger sense of humor. When Fine is killed by the evil Rayna (Rose Byrne) before he could expose Rayna’s plan to sell a nuclear bomb to a terrorist, and all other field agents are exposed, the CIA has no choice but to send the inexperienced Cooper into field duty. Cooper is initially tasked with gathering intelligence from a distance, but when she comes face to face with danger, she finds out that she either has to step up, or go back home in a body bag.
Aside from being a skilled comedienne with impeccable comedic timing, McCarthy proves herself once again as a versatile actress who can sell intimidating, relatable, sexy etc… at the drop of a hat. I also can’t think of any other actress who can deliver soul-crushing insults as perfectly as she does. The way he did with his previous films, Feig plays to all of McCarthy’s strengths and proves once again that she’s a force to be reckoned with.
The supporting cast, ranging from established comedians and action superstars, also have a ball with their roles. After being stuck playing the reasonable wife in a string of comedies, a cliché her character even made fun of in Neighbors, Rose Byrne finally gets a very different role as a ridiculously evil and narcissistic character, a snobby 0.1 percenter parody of a Bond villain. British comedienne Miranda Hart is delightful as a spy fangirl who’s thrown into the middle of the action, and Peter Sarafinowicz is hilarious as a perverted Italian agent who’s obsessed with Cooper’s "assets".
But it’s Jason Statham as Rick Ford, a rogue agent who continually insists that Cooper’s way above her head, even after witnessing her take out an army of bad guys, that shines as a truly memorable character. Statham, as Brits would put it, takes the piss out of his usual overtly macho action movie personality as he delivers ridiculous lines concerning the character’s physically impossible achievement with a straight face. My favorite line in a movie full of quotable one-liners is Ford claiming that his missing left arm was reattached using his right arm. Then where the hell did his current right arm come from?