Melissa McCarthy has proven herself a force in comedy, both on television and at the box office in the last few years. But her rise seems to have corresponded to her collaborations with director Paul Feig, who knows how to use her to the best of her abilities, and by now has a shorthand with the actress on how to make the most of her unique comedic talents.
Spy is their third film together, after Bridesmaids (for which McCarthy was Oscar-nominated) and The Heat, where she essentially stole the movie from straight man Sandra Bullock, no stranger to comedy herself. Here McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a dowdy, meek CIA techie who spends her days literally in the ear of Jude Law's special agent Bradley Fine, a James Bond-esque, dashing American spy as he takes out bad guys in exotic foreign locations while she plays Chloe to his Jack Bauer. She has a crush on him of course, but he sees her only as his loyal pal, something more along the lines of a useful pet even. When something goes deadly wrong on one of Law's missions, Susan gets into the action on a quest for payback, and wild antics ensue as she bumbles her way through the mission in various countries, tracking down the baddie the CIA's after (an icy Rose Byrne, fellow Bridesmaids alum), and coming in contact with one kooky agent after another who either gets in her way, endeavors to help her out but fails spectacularly, or is pulling off their own secret double or triple cross.
Of course, Susan's really the best agent in the bunch, proving her worth as she slowly turns herself from the unwilling undercover cat lady to the raucous, foul-mouthed force of nature that is the Melissa McCarthy we all know and love (the one who had me in stitches in just about every scene from The Heat, still my favorite). The movie's a slick, efficient, nicely structured spoof on current spy movies, which are more the Daniel Craig Bond series than the Connery ones, and a perfect star vehicle for McCarthy's considerable talents. I appreciate the way she does try to be funny in a more mild-mannered style than in The Heat for a good while, gamely giving up some of the most hilarious lines to scene-stealer Jason Statham, simultaneously the world's most confident and incompetent fellow spy as they stalk Byrne and her nefarious colleagues all over Europe. Another admirable quality of the Feig/McCarthy projects is the full on embrace of female characters from the most consequential roles all the way down to the minor ones, with CIA boss Allison Janney to Byrne's villain and Susan's own techie sidekick, the delightful Brit Nancy (Miranda Hart), who's happy to be along for the ride.
There are plenty of big laughs in the movie, my favorites being Susan's first bungled but effective kill, and her switch from pretending to be Byrne's acquaintance to pretending to be her disgusted and volatile bodyguard who throws phones at the heads of random dudes whose faces she just "doesn't like." Spy is an enjoyable, female heavy summer diversion where if one joke doesn't land, the next one will come up fast and furious so as not to leave any awkward pauses. And it also works as an action movie, with McCarthy saving the day and going out for drinks with her best gal pal afterwards. There's a subtle feminism to her movies, a strain that doesn't force itself on you but confidently shows just how easy it is for women to be funny and dominant in any genre. I can't wait for the new Ghostbusters next year, also from Feig and starring McCarthy- I think these two make a certain kind of magic that simply works.
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