– Nobody wears a bad disguise like Melissa McCarthy. Nobody strings together pearls of profane invective quite like McCarthy, either. And, most importantly for comedy fans, nobody combines those activities with pratfalls, gunplay, and covert espionage like McCarthy does, to rousing comedic effect in “Spy,” the year’s best comedy so far.
Writer-director Paul Feig and McCarthy team up for the third time (“Bridesmaids” and “The Heat”) and it definitely proves to be the charm. One of McCarthy’s strongest traits is that regardless of the character she’s playing, we root for her. Never is this more true than here, where she’s under-appreciated CIA desk jockey Susan Cooper, a sort of spy’s assistant—the voice who sits back at HQ in Langley and whispers in the ear of the field agent while he kicks bad guy butt. Susan’s partner is Bradley Fine, played by Jude Law in full-on auditioning-for-the-next-Bond mode. When an operation goes sideways and Fine is killed in action, Susan, who graduated at the top of her class but has never worked in the field, volunteers to go overseas to help track down the killer.
If the plot sounds simple, that’s because it is. It doesn’t take a degree from Le Cordon Bleu to figure out the recipe for laughs: Put McCarthy in a series of perilous situations dressed in a variety of hideous (read: hilarious) outfits and travel to an array of gorgeous European locales then count the money as the audiences line up. But Feig the writer contributes by putting the jokes on the page, while Feig the director ups the ante by surrounding McCarthy with talented actors that give her plenty of opportunities to create sublime physical comedy.
The cast shines. Besides Law, Jason Statham is an erstwhile agent, Rose Byrne is a (sort of) mobster’s daughter, Allison Janney is Susan’s boss, and Miranda Hart is Susan’s co-worker and eventual partner-in-crime-solving. Byrne in particular is top-notch when paired with McCarthy. And Hart, largely unknown to stateside audiences who aren’t familiar with her eponymous BBC series, is a revelation who nearly steals the picture. Hopefully, they’re all back for the sequel.
Clearly, Feig and McCarthy are simpatico. “Spy” is a high concept comedic confection that is likely to win over moviegoers and spawn a franchise. But that’s not to say it’s beyond reproach. Those easily offended by profanity should probably skip this one and look elsewhere for summer laughs.
The feeling here is that McCarthy has the chops to be both funny and PG-13. (In fact, Statham is probably the biggest f-bomb offender.) With the “Ghostbusters” reboot arriving next summer, it won’t be long before McCarthy gets a chance to prove herself in more family-friendly fare. ~ By Michael Bennett
Rated R for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity.