Spy (2015) – Live and Let Laugh

Last week, I reviewed the 2013 edition of the Paul Feig-Melissa McCarthy combo, The Heat. As I said, while the film never reached the top-level comedic heights set by Bridesmaids, it did benefit from some solid humor and good chemistry between McCarthy and co-star Sandra Bullock. Since then, and even between Bridesmaids and The Heat, McCarthy in a series of comedies that never quite measured up to her standards as a comedic actress. Additionally, with a bright future ahead of him, Paul Feig had left this reviewer wondering if he could duplicate the successes of Bridesmaids.

Once again, Spy never quite scales the heights of Bridesmaids, but it proves that Feig and McCarthy are one of the most entertaining director-actor duos in Hollywood at the moment. Unlike The Heat, Spy works much a better as a slight subversion of the genre from which it receives its name, only one of the reasons for Feig’s commendable writing. And while McCarthy shines in her first chance as the sole leading lady with Feig, she is supported by a talented supporting cast, each of whom adds their own flavor to this melting pot.

When The Heat took on the buddy-cop subgenre of action comedies, there were merely a few jokes that poked fun at the archetypes that contemporary Hollywood has created, but none of it ever felt like true subversion. Perhaps this is because of the film’s penchant for raunchy humor removed from intent to subvert and its reliance on the typical plot structure of such buddy-cop films, but part of it is a general feeling. Additionally, the archetypes the characters embodied often never became the punch line. Spy, on the other hand, often shows its hand, so to speak.

In many instances, Feig’s most recent venture, his first as both a writer and director, takes on the spy genre and has a lot of gleeful fun with it. Many of these will be explored later, but a number of aesthetics, conventions, and character archetypes are playfully mocked, and the plot, while bearing some familiarities, was not as reliant on those familiarities as The Heat. Hell, the concept of a CIA analyst, who spends most of her time behind a desk giving out directions to the agent in the field, being thrust into the middle of the action feels like subversion, itself.

As previously mentioned, the script for Spy is never overly dependent on the conventions of spy action film plots, and it benefits the film for more than just subversion. One of the reasons Bridesmaids was so enjoyable was the unpredictability of its plot. Sure, it was not written around the clichés of a specific subgenre like either The Heat or Spy, and maybe the outcome was foreseeable, but that’s what decades of exposure to Hollywood film will do to the average viewer.

It’s all about the journey toward the conclusion, and Spy makes the most of its journey. While there are double crosses, chase scenes, and a moment of extreme peril for the protagonist, but the plot does take a few twists and turns to make for an enjoyable experience. But, of course, there is a more obvious reason for the film’s inherent charm.

Unlike The Heat, the humor in Spy is much more broad, never allowing itself to essentially become a one-joke film or rely on the raunchy comedy it, and so many other films, possess. There is plenty comedy surrounding the spy subgenre, foul-mouthed humor that McCarthy pulls off so well, a respectable amount of raunch, and like The Heat, plenty of jabs at the patriarchal tendencies in the workplace and Hollywood film. There are a couple of gross-out gags – which Hollywood is still deluded in believing qualifies as legitimate comedy – that are only that, but they are few and far between.

It is safe to say that McCarthy makes the most of being the bona fide star she hinted at becoming in Bridesmaids. With the right project, her charisma is unmatched by many other contemporary comedians. What is most refreshing about her performance as Susan Cooper are the two sides she exhibits in this role. Sometimes she will play the meek, slightly awkward and at others her lines come blistering out with the same crass and irreverence she has become well known for. She may possess great talent as a lead, but her supporting cast members are no bums.

First of all, Jude Law plays the stereotypes of the suave, sophisticated, yet lethal special agent as Bradley Fine. He may have given up his British accent for something American, but his simultaneously believable and artificial, for lack of a better word, in his role. Secondly, Rose Byrne does a wonderful job as the equally sophisticated and lethal villain – although not quite? – as Raina Boyanaov. Even Miranda Hart and Peter Serafinowicz are enjoyable in their respective roles. The big surprise, however, is Jason Statham, whose comically intense Rick Ford is essentially a parody of every action hero he has played.

Last week, I mentioned that this film stood as a big question mark for Paul Feig. Would he replicate, or at least come close to, the charms of Bridesmaids, or was he just a one-hit wonder (The Heat was enjoyable, but it was a significant drop off)? After bringing back McCarthy and entering the fold as a writer/director, one can see that the former is indeed the case. Because Feig is the one responsible for directing the third Ghostbusters film, sometimes one just has to make sure of these things, you know?

3/4

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