There’s a reason Melissa McCarthy is arguably one of the finest comic actors of our times – it’s because she’s totally unafraid of looking stupid. From her terrific breakout in 2011’s Bridesmaids (for which she earned an Oscar nomination, no less), she’s consistently revealed a flair for physical comedy, and razor-sharp improv skills that most actors can only envy. Take that scene in which the ladies get a bad case of the shits while trying on expensive dresses at a fancy Vera Wang-like boutique. Who can forget how McCarthy’s character beats the others in a dash to the restroom, making it only as far as the sink?
In Spy, her third collaboration with director Paul Feig (after Bridesmaids and The Heat), McCarthy stars as Susan Cooper, an unassuming desk analyst at the CIA, tasked with being the eyes and ears of a narcissistic Bond-like field agent (Jude Law). But when he’s killed by a devious Bulgarian arms dealer (a hilarious Rose Byrne) and the agency is compromised, her boss (the always dependable Alison Janney) has no choice but to throw the untested Cooper into the field.
Feig, who has revealed that he always wanted to direct a Bond film, does the next best thing here: he crafts a clever send-up of the spy genre, skewering all the typical 007 cliches from over-the-top villains to high-tech gadgets disguised as stool-softener pills and a fungus spray. Expectedly, many laughs are mined from the dumpy makeovers that McCarthy’s character must resort to in order to go unnoticed. But to be fair, Cooper turns out to be pretty good at her job, and Feig stages some nifty action scenes to make that point, even if it’s all done within the realm of comedy. Like that scene in which she fights back a knife-wielding Nargis Fakhri with – what else? – a frying pan.
The secret sauce in this movie, however, is Jason Statham, who sportingly has fun with his own image of a typical lunkheaded tough guy. Cast as a fellow agent who refuses to take Cooper seriously, Statham’s scenes with McCarthy are pure comic gold, particularly one in which they’re dangling off a chopper. There is much pleasure to be had also in the scenes between McCarthy and Byrne, who spend most of their screen time together trading hilarious insults.
Never a spoof in the vein of Johnny English or the Austin Powers movies, Spy is funny without being campy or foolish. It’s smartly written, and deliciously performed by an A-list cast led by the ridiculously talented McCarthy who never ceases to surprise.
I’m going with four out of five. It’s an evening well spent at the cinema.