Movie Review: ‘Spy’
Since her unforgettable breakthrough in Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy has crafted an onscreen persona that in addition to being one of the most profitable in recent memory also defies comparisons to any other actress who’s come before her. Which is why it’s been frustrating to watch her fall into a predictable character rut as of late, playing variations of the same socially awkward, insult-heavy tomboy that first shot her to superstardom – and an Oscar nomination – back in 2011.
But in re-teaming with Paul Feig, the A-list director who’s helmed her best work (Bridesmaids and 2012’s The Heat) the actress seems to have once again found her mojo after last year’s disappointing Tammy. Sure Spy may not exactly offer up the type of departure from her previous roles that many of us had hoped for, but in Fox’s mega budgeted action comedy, McCarthy leads an unlikely yet wholly winning ensemble to deliver one of the freshest, most heartfelt films of the summer.
Despite graduating at the top of her class at Langley, where she demonstrated a surprising knack for physical combat, sweet and mild-mannered Susan Cooper (McCarthy) has spent the entirety of her subsequent CIA career behind a call center desk. Instead, it’s her partner, the oh so suave Bradley Fine (an appropriately dashing Jude Law) who’s lived the James Bond life, jet setting to exotic locales and taking out power-hungry bad guys while Cooper watches and ably assists via a high tech hidden camera and earpiece.
Together they make quite a winning pair, and even though Fine seems very comfortable basking alone in the glory that their combined effort has warranted, Cooper can’t help but be mesmerized by his rakish charm. That is until socialite, Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne channeling the Ecclestone sisters) a Eurotrashy brat with deep pockets and even deeper connections to some nefarious weapons dealers, uncovers intelligence that compromises the identities of CIA spies around the globe – including Fine – and it’s up to Susan Cooper to protect the agency she loves so dearly.
Of course, the plot gets a tad bit more complicated, but as is the case with all McCarthy movies, it’s really just a series of set-ups allowing the actress to do what she does best: shoot off rapid-fire insults and throw herself headfirst into daring physical comedy. And fortunately, most of it succeeds without veering too much into the crass, borderline desperate territory of Identity Thief or Tammy, thanks in no small part to Feig who deftly handles the action heavy sequences while still staying out his leading lady’s way.
And at the end of the day that’s all you can do with a force of nature like McCarthy. Whether she’s shoved into a cat sweater and a bad Iowa mom wig, or running full speed in heels, the actress is never less than 100% committed. Ironically though, it’s the quieter moments in the film that truly allow her to shine. Susan’s interactions with her best friend and co-worker, Nancy (played by British comedienne and scene-stealer, Miranda Hart) no nonsense boss, Elaine (the always great Allison Janney), and especially her rivalry with a rogue operative (a hysterical Jason Statham) are definite highlights.
After all, wacky histrionics aside, it’s McCarthy’s vulnerability and everyday appeal that have really made her a superstar. Spy succeeds, not simply because the actress can juice a laugh from a pratfall like few can, but because she’s a welcome reminder that sometimes there’s nothing more enthralling, or as enjoyable as watching someone be unabashedly and unapologetically who they are… haters be damned.
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