★ ★ ★ ½
During the first few minutes of Spy, suave CIA agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) guides us through an upscale party as though he’s starring in a Mission: Impossible sequel. The payoff to this scene is a guffaw-inducing bit of physical comedy that introduces the humor and unpredictability that will drive this broadly funny, yet exciting summer flick. Spy works because of the directorial hand and creative voice of Paul Feig, the mastermind behind such past summer hits as Bridesmaids (2011) and The Heat (2013), as well as the co-creator of the seminal television series Freaks and Geeks. There is also a very important thread connecting Feig’s last three comedies: comic powerhouse Melissa McCarthy, who is the axis on which the goofy, yet deep world of Spy spins and the foremost reason the film succeeds and entertains.
McCarthy stars as Susan Cooper, a CIA computer analyst who helps keep Fine safe during his missions by giving him instructions remotely through an earpiece. After killing a man in Bulgaria while trying to find a bomb he has hidden, Fine is shot by the man’s daughter Rayna (Rose Byrne), who reveals via a hidden camera that she knows the identities of all of the CIA’s top operatives. With no other agent available to safely tail Rayna or her rich Italian potential client (Bobby Cannavale), Cooper volunteers to enter active duty. After her boss (Allison Janney) acquiesces, the former desk jockey finds herself in Paris reporting on Rayna’s movements. Cooper, in turn, is being trailed everywhere she goes by a special agent named Rick Ford (Jason Statham), who wants to be involved in this important mission and doesn’t trust Cooper to gain the necessary information.
Feig, who wrote and directed this film, is a comedy chemist, with each character working as a different type of foil or straight man/woman for Agent Cooper. The plot itself is highly engaging, full of surprising twists and real intrigue, but it’s McCarthy who makes the whole thing tick with her kinetic energy and perfectly timed reactions; seeing her face go from sheer excitement to abject disappointment in a flat second is like witnessing comic perfection. It’s safe to say that Feig and McCarthy are one of the most successful comedy teams in Hollywood right now. Meanwhile, Byrne nails the conceited, rude ice-queen role, and Statham is hilarious playing against type as a wannabe hero who just keeps making things more difficult for Cooper. Statham’s back-and-forth with McCarthy at a coffee shop early in the movie is the best comedic moment the action star has had since his role in Snatch.
On the other hand, audiences might lament not getting to see more of Cannavale as devious smuggler Sergio De Luca. With roles ranging from highly intimidating (Boardwalk Empire) to adorably affable (the 2003 film The Station Agent), he’s one of the most underappreciated actors of his generation, and unfortunately he’s playing a plot device rather than an actual character here. There’s also not quite enough of Janney in this movie, although she looks like she’s having a ball portraying a D.C. power player again after starring on The West Wing for seven seasons as press secretary C.J. Cregg. As for the dialogue, Feig nails the mostly insult-based jokes, but there is too much exposition in the scenes that serve to explain the plot and backstory. The few instances in which the dialogue sounds inauthentic will remind some viewers of why Bridesmaids was such a high-water mark in Feig’s career (as well as the comedy landscape in general).
Overall, though, Spy provides just about everything audiences expect from a blockbuster summer comedy. The action is fun, the jokes alternate between hilariously goofy and acidly smart, and the surprising twists and high stakes will keep eyes glued to the screen. In addition, two talented Brits are each able to steal scenes from McCarthy: Peter Serafinowicz plays Aldo, an Italian CIA contact who openly lusts for Cooper, and Miranda Hart portrays Nancy, Cooper’s best pal in the office and partner in crime. Feig and Spy succeed not only because of the enjoyable comedy and hijinks, but because they care enough to develop a number of unique, memorable characters. Viewers are sure to find laughs in a film that, like a true secret agent, is witty, disarming, and always capable of surprise.