“A hodgepodge of epic proportions”

by Steve Pulaski

Paul Feig’s Spy continues to showcase the talents of Melissa McCarthy’s admirably zealous performing abilities as an actress. Love her or hate her, McCarthy is a comic force of nature, breathlessly going from a mild and calm demeanor to a racier, more hot-headed temper in almost no time. Spy is best divided into two acts, separated by the hour mark, with the first hour showing McCarthy’s mannered side while showing her unleash her fury during the second. It’s quite an interesting mix, and provides for a rather unexpectedly reversal (Spy wasn’t really marketed on vulgarian principles like The Heat and Tammy were).

However, there’s less charming about Spy than I was ready to report. This is a film that simply shows the same brand of McCarthy humor we’ve seen before, unabashedly raunchy, sometimes to a fault, and burdened by a very hit or miss array of jokes along the way. Feig and McCarthy, yet again, seem to be spitballing ideas here, trying to find what works for her in the vein of physical comedy, dialog, and situational events and finding a ground that’s more solid than the terribly loose Tammy but less appealing than the chemistry-driven Heat. It’s a hodgepodge of epic proportions in terms of the direction of its humor, along with being seriously confused about its presentation as an action-comedy.

Written & Directed by
Paul Feig
Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jude Law
Release Date
5 June 2015
Steve’s Grade: D+

The story revolves around Melissa McCarthy’s Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst/desk jockey who helps guide her fellow Agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) on missions, watching his every move through computers and assisting him in compromising predicaments. The CIA is in search of a nuke bomb suitcase, and upon failing to recover it during Fine’s efforts in Bulgaria and his subsequent death, Susan is sent undercover to find and identify Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), the daughter of the man responsible for the nuke bomb suitcase. Susan is sent undercover because of fear that Rayna and her family are aware of the other spies in the CIA, like the pompous, know-it-all Rick Ford (Jason Statham), who quits in frustration upon Susan being allowed to partake in the mission. Susan’s boss Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) winds up agreeing to her mission, and before long, Susan becomes “Penny Morgan,” a middle-aged woman touring in Paris, working to get close to Rayna before the nuke bomb is detonated.

We’ve seen these same tropes before in action films gone past, where there is some sort of fabled device up for grabs by numerous different parties and police are summoned or somebody is sent undercover. At first, Spy recognizes that it’s essentially operating on well-charted territory and decides to toy with the general quips and cliches of the genre. However, just about the same time the script decides to amplify Melissa McCarthy’s vulgarian tendencies, the film begins to play the same quips it was satirizing. We never really know whether or not we should be laughing with or at Spy, and that poses a big problem for the tone of the film.

Again, McCarthy can be admirable at certain times in the film, but overall, there’s a dreary sense of familiarity with her performances. We’ve seen McCarthy be the toughest woman on screen before and her characters have all run threadbare in terms of being able to be anything other than occasionally hard-headed or amiable to a fault. Between this and Feig trying to throw McCarthy into every comic situation possible (including some very unfunny and absurdly long scenes involving Peter Serafinowicz’s character trying to molest Susan at every turn) and we just have another comedy trying way too hard to be funny.

Spy can, however, claim to have a very strong cast of supporting characters, specifically Byrne and Janney, both of whom do very capable work here. Byrne continues to explore her well-rounded, character actress principles, Janney delivers her wonderfully cold, deadpan humor, and Statham gives an innocuous performance that dreads carefully along the lines of self parody. But between Spy‘s identity crisis as a film, McCarthy’s tired schtick (I long to see her work in a dramatic film, where I think she’d be wonderfully capable, perhaps pulling a Robin Williams-esque reversal on naysayers), and the inevitable muchness that begins to overtake the film as a whole and there’s a lot burdening Spy that undermines the strong talent on display here.