Paul Feig’s “Spy” bills itself as a spy movie parody right in its title, but it veers closer to a traditional action-comedy vehicle for Melissa McCarthy than an out-and-out spoof. The elements are all there for a classic, but it lacks the tongue-in-cheek homages to cinema and zaniness of the OSS:117 movies or the sheer stupidity of even the Austin Powers movies. That said, Melissa McCarthy might be a shoo-in for the next James Bond once Daniel Craig steps aside.
Feig starts to reinvent the spy genre by imagining the other side of James Bond’s innate talents. Bradley Fine (Jude Law, donning a convincing American accent against expectations) is the suave CIA operative leading a sting on a Russian terrorist wielding a nuke. But he only manages to get so far because of who is speaking in his ear, Susan Cooper (McCarthy). Susan is Chloe O’Brien if she was stuck in Michael Scott’s office, where even at the CIA there are rats pooping through the ceiling and co-workers having loud birthday parties in the break room while Fine faces life and death stakes.
The Russian agent’s daughter Rayna (Rose Byrne) takes possession of the nuke, murders Fine and reveals she knows the identity of every other in-the-field CIA agent. Feeling responsible for his death, Cooper volunteers herself to track Rayna and intercept the nuke in her possession, with the hope she can remain anonymous.
It’s maybe more plot exposition than a spoof like this actually needs, but Feig quickly gets to the juicy spectacle of seeing McCarthy act. Some of her roles, even her breakout role in Feig’s “Bridesmaids”, have seen her go broad, vulgar and aggressive to a fault. But in “Spy” she plays the chipper and naïve Midwesterner that gives McCarthy her star power off screen. It’s that much more of a shock when she flips a switch and effortlessly hurls insults about people looking like a bag of dicks or dead hookers.
As Genevieve Koski put in her Dissolve review, it’s more than “fat lady go boom” jokes as the trailers have made it out to be. But Feig still offers up a bad mix of lazy stereotypes of slimy, Italian misogynists as well as gags simply at the expense of McCarthy’s ludicrous disguises.
As with many of these films, it’s the supporting cast that does all the heavy lifting. Rose Byrne continues to be a standout, earning the line of the movie when she flatly declares at one of Susan’s worse puns, “What a stupid fucking retarded toast.” Jason Statham as a rival agent arguably gives his most intense performance to date, endlessly one-upping himself with increasingly ridiculous secret agent feats he can’t seem to actually perform. And British comic Miranda Hart is poised as the breakout, a goofy looking best-friend type with about a foot on Rebel Wilson but all of her awkward charm.
“Bridesmaids” opened doors for actresses like McCarthy and Byrne to do just about anything, including make a goofy spy movie previously reserved for men. But then “Spy” isn’t exactly “Bridesmaids”, and Feig might’ve just gotten more mileage out of “Bridesmaids 2”.