Spy

Posted by Joel Copling on June 4, 2015


"Spy" is two movies in one and at constant odds with each other. The first of those movies (in spirit) is what the title directly states--a spy movie in the James Bond tradition, complete with action sequences and at least two twists unexpected even by the standards of the genre. Director Paul Feig is skilled at conveying this spirit, actually building suspense where there is, in reality, not much of the stuff present. The second of those movies (in tone) is the kind of rowdy, R-rated comedy in which Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy have shown confidence with 2011's "Bridesmaids" and 2013's "The Heat." The problem is that Feig's screenplay wants to jam that raunchy raucousness into the spy formula, resulting in a conflicted mishmash that intrigues well enough in its plot only amuses on occasion.

The pieces are there for it to work almost in spite of itself. Take the scene in which our heroine, the unassuming but more than efficient CIA agent Susan Cooper (McCarthy) and her diligent partner Nancy B. Artingstall (Miranda Hart, a fun find) are briefed by the film's spoof of a Q-type character on the gadgets Susan will bring with her. Each of the gadgets is cloaked in some sort of use that makes them seem pretty unseemly (an antidote to poison hidden in a bottle of labeled "stool softener," for instance), which both pokes and prods at the very idea of the use of such a device for exposition. On the other hand, when Susan must team up with the entirely uncharming, reprehensible geekshow of a human Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz), there's nowhere for Feig to take the humor but into awkward places that don't really work as intended.

This kind of uneasy balance between the sly spoof of the espionage thriller and the sight gags of the raunchy comedy pervade the movie elsewhere, too, such as in the persistence of having a smart mouth in scenes that don't need it. Indeed, almost in spite of another spirited performance from McCarthy (who is surprisingly believable here as an action heroine, adding yet another tool to the actress's considerable arsenal), Susan randomly becomes coarse and crass in the second half, hinting at some sort of behind-the-scenes rewrite that wasn't satisfactorily patched over. McCarthy herself is able to ease the transition via a sympathetic performance, though, so the fault is mostly Feig's.

I haven't even mentioned the plot yet, but it's a surprisingly crafty one (again, at strange odds with the comedy surrounding it) that finds Susan attempting to thwart Rayna Boyanov's (Rose Byrne, cheerfully but pointlessly vulgar) plot to acquire a nuclear weapon after the femme fatale cruelly and coldly takes out debonair legend in the Central Intelligence Agency, Bradley Fine (Jude Law, clearly having a lot of fun). The trip takes her to Paris and then Budapest. Along the way, Susan rubs shoulders with the aforementioned Aldo and Rick Ford, a disgraced former spy played by Jason with more charisma than the actor has ever been allowed to showcase onscreen, and the mission takes sharp turns in unexpected places.

But "Spy" only seems sure of itself in the places that don't really count. There is a lot of emphasis placed upon the acquisition of the nuke, but the whole central dissolves by the end without much consequence. The twists are most fun because of their placement in the narrative (one of which legitimately shocked me), but what would be the Big Twist of the piece is painfully predictable by a third act that gives up a lot of earlier creativity (though thankfully the only Ticking Clock cliche is used when said decade is already seven seconds from detonation). The humor doesn't really work, despite actors who sell it only in theory, because the slyness of the spy spoof and the dumb sitcom stuff don't really mesh. "Spy" is laughing with us at the traditions of a genre that seems overworked, but the wink and the nudge are unfortunately accompanied by a snort.

Film Information


Melissa McCarthy (Susan Cooper), Rose Byrne (Rayna Boyanov), Miranda Hart (Nancy B. Artingstall), Jason Statham (Rick Ford), Jude Law (Bradley Fine), Allison Janney (Elaine Crocker), Peter Serafinowicz (Aldo), Bobby Cannavale (Sergio De Luca).

Directed and written by Paul Feig.

Rated R (language throughout, violence, sexual content including brief graphic nudity).

120 minutes.

Released on June 5, 2015.