Melissa McCarthy burst into prominence on the movie scene with a supporting role in 2011’s Bridesmaids. Since then she has had a series of comedies that put her in a starring role, Identity Thief and Tammy were panned by critics and I never even bothered to see them. The other one, The Heat, was also directed by Bridesmaids director Paul Feig. Spy re-teams Feig and McCarthy, and as with their previous collaborations, it is a very funny movie that gets the most out of Melissa McCarthy and mostly plays to her strengths and limits her weaknesses. It also features a strong supporting cast that get a lot of laughs as well.
McCarthy’s Susan Cooper is a CIA analyst who provides logistical support to the top spy in the business, Bradley Fine (Jude Law). While on a mission to locate a suitcase nuke in possession of a deceased arms dealer’s wealthy daughter, Rayna Boyanov (Roe Byrne), Fine is taken out and Rayna reveals that she knows the identities of all of the CIA’s field operatives. This sidelines the best spies qualified to infiltrate Rayna’s group and prevent the sale of the nuke, spies like Rick Ford (Jason Statham) or Karen Walker (Moren Baccarin). Because of this, Cooper convinces her boss, Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney), to put her in the field to gain intelligence that will hopefully lead them to the nuke, provided she keeps her distance and doesn’t get too close and potentially compromise the mission.
What follows is a loose-fitting plot that progresses through a lot of typical espionage thriller beats, but because this is a comedy and not your typical spy movie, it mostly works. They really serve as much as vignettes for McCarthy to showcase her talent and improv for a lot of scenes and her various disguises showcase her versatility. The story smartly gives her a background of actually being qualified to be in the field, but she got “sniped” by Fine, her mentor, because he probably felt threatened by her ability, and convinced her to stay at a desk. So Cooper comes across as mostly believable, if rusty, while on the mission. There are some things she does that stretch credulity and there are some odd moments where she almost flashes on information like she’s got the intersect from Chuck in her head. And while Feig does a good job of playing to her strengths for most of the movie, there are still moments where he’s not able to rein her in completely. But on the whole, there are enough genuine laughs and McCarthy is so good that it is easy to set aside these minor flaws.
While McCarthy is the star, the rest of the cast is so strong in their work that if McCarthy were not as good as she was, they easily would have stolen the spotlight. Rose Byrne really first ventured out into comedy with a smaller but crucial role in Get Him To the Greek in 2010 and she has felt like a natural and has really found her comedic voice with Bridesmaids, Neighbors, and this movie. She works really well in these comedies, and she plays really well off McCarthy. Allison Janney is great in a small role as Cooper’s CIA boss, continually giving her terrible IDs for her jobs. Jude Law is really enjoyable as the suave super-spy. While he’s been in lighter work, I think this is his first straight up comedy. Bobby Cannavale plays a potential buyer of the suitcase nuke, and he’s fine, but lacks the bona fides to be a legit big bad villain, but he is capable of making the comedy work. Also really enjoyable is Peter Serafinowicz as a sleazy Italian spy who helps Cooper and is constantly hitting on her.
The two standouts of the supporting cast, though, are Miranda Hart and Jason Statham. Hart plays Nancy Artingstall, Cooper’s best friend in the office. She is given the role that McCarthy probably would have gotten pre-Bridesmaids. She really gets a lot of good material when they’re in the office, and then is even funnier when she gets thrust into the field later on in order to assist Cooper. Statham is the real highlight of the supporting cast, playing a parody of the kind of action star he typically portrays. He is absolutely hilarious as Rick Ford. He resents the idea that the CIA would send in someone so inexperienced, even if his cover is blown. He is determined to do whatever is necessary to make sure the mission is completed, though he proves to be more meddlesome than anything. He has a great monologue about how great a spy he is, from skiing blindfolded, to learning piano at a late age, to impersonating the president during an assassination threat, to eating enough microchips over time to crap out a computer. To see Statham go as hard at the comedy here as he does at the action in most of his movies, while hewing so closely to the same kinds of characters he plays in those movies, is really fun to watch and a real strength of the movie.
While there are a few plot contrivances and inconsistencies (in particular, one involving a double spy where it’s best not to try to figure out how that spy managed to convincingly turn), the strengths of the comedy involved, from hilarious lines, to sight gags, to the physical comedy involving McCarthy, and Statham’s great supporting performance are so solid that they mask any weaknesses of the film Spy is easily one of the funniest movies of the summer, one of the funnier movies this year so far, and it makes me hopeful for future Feig/McCarthy projects, while hoping that more directors figure out how to properly use her in their films.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars