Paul Feig directs Spy, a film that hits many of the same marks as The Heat and Bridesmaids. The 2015 comedy is kind of an espionage spoof, with the stipulation being that it stars Melissa McCarthy. Ha, ha. She can’t be a spy, right fellas? Like The Heat, which also starred McCarthy, Spy purports to break a few Hollywood rules by featuring women in starring roles.
But like The Heat, Spy is a disappointment. Feig, who also wrote the screenplay, unloads the kitchen sink and winds up with a bloated 120 minutes. There’s very little about the film to justify to such a substantial runtime and the comedy follows the typical modern style of “riffing,” where characters rattle off endless lines in search of finding the right one.
McCarthy stars as Susan Cooper, a deskbound CIA agent who guides her partner Bradley Fine (Jude Law) through the field. While tracking a nuclear weapon, Fine is shot by Rayna (Rose Byrne) while Susan watches on his camera hookup. Cooper wants to go into the field, as Rayna knows the identities of the field agents but likely doesn’t know the “dowdy” office lady.
At first, Cooper is simply supposed to “track and report” Rayna’s activities. One thing leads to another and dear Susan is more involved. Rogue agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) is also after the nuke and he’s intense, man. Together with her best friend Nancy (Miranda Hart) and her skills, Susan tries to bring down Rayna.
Susan Cooper is presented as the everywoman, which is something most of Hollywood finds hilarious. The mere arrival of McCarthy in some pretty normal clothes is supposed to elicit chuckles, especially as the “more attractive” characters take relentless pot-shots at her appearance. This gets old in a hurry.
Cooper is presented as capable in a kind of manic way, but Feig’s screenplay can’t resist giving her several outs to validate the “comic” direction. She cracks under pressure and faints an awful lot. Training footage suggests she has a kind of hostile chaos thing, but this rarely comes into play. She comes off as kind of pitiful, constantly outshone by those around her.
It’s admirable when a film chases the laugh as much as Spy does, but Cooper winds up lacking an identity because of it. One minute, she can take down an assassin with her sweet skills. The next minute, she’s fumbling around and incapable of accomplishing the simplest of tasks. There’s no consistency to her character.
Spy wants to have it all. It attempts to spoof the Q sequences in Bond movies by having a dude “crop-dust” people on a hovering gadget, but it doesn’t have the guts to take any major stabs at intelligence. The CIA’s powers are all-consuming; they shut the lights off in an entire city at one point and can listen in on any phone conversation, which is creepy.
Feig’s movie is sadly rather predictable and rather hollow. It doesn’t punch up in its attempts at humour, which is unfortunate because it’s punching all the time. Spy is replete with put-ons of the “you look like…” variety, with the women typically wedged into making “hilarious” jokes about hair or clothing. Also, there are at least two gags in which a character is said to look like someone’s aunt.
This should be a better movie. There’s a lot to play with in the genre, whether in terms of masculine stereotypes or how women are consigned to stereotypes. Feig barely scratches the surface, presenting Statham in a role that simmers with promise but heads down the same path as all the others. As game as he is to lampoon his image, the script doesn’t give him much to say apart from the usual word salad.
An overlong, overbaked, gutless comedy, Spy feels like a missed opportunity. While McCarthy can often be fun to watch, she’s less so when the film doesn’t know how to end scenes. Her comic energy is certainly dynamite, but she’s strangely confined in the role. The rest of the cast suffers similarly, with Feig’s screenplay once again eschewing novelty for clichés.