Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne
Directed by: Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”)
Written by: Paul Feig (“I Am David”)
After turning in directorial efforts with the smash hit “Bridesmaids” and the lesser hit “The Heat” and being put in the helm for the all-female casted “Ghostbusters,” TV director whiz turned film director Paul Feig has somehow been branded as the guy who directs female-centric films. Whether it’s an intentional career move or not, Feig has shown, through years of experience, a certain adeptness at directing comedy, regardless of gender. His latest film, “Spy,” allows him to flex some other muscles as he takes on the spy movie genre with apparent muse Melissa McCarthy.
After an unfortunate experience involving her field agent partner, CIA desk analyst Susan Cooper (McCarthy) offers to go out undercover into the field to try to uncover a nuclear threat. Following a series events that gets Susan up close and personal with a very dangerous woman named Raina Boynov (Rose Byrne), she finds herself over her head and in the thick of a major national security breach.
Since stealing every scene and even earning an Oscar nomination for her role in “Bridesmaids,” McCarthy has struggled in leading roles since. After receiving a lukewarm reception in Feig’s “The Heat” and straight up tanking in films like “Tammy” and “Identity Thief,” McCarthy is finally able to even out and deliver a strong comedic performance. Whereas “Tammy” and “Identity Thief” had McCarthy at level 10 and obnoxious, “Spy” provides her with a much more vulnerable and sympathetic character that results in far more likeability.
Of course, part of the reason “Spy” is the most successful of the McCarthy-led films post-“Bridesmaids” is the strength of its well designed ensemble cast. As a foil, Rose Byrne is particularly entertaining as she chews scenery as a villain, yet it is Jason Statham who is clearly having the most fun. Perhaps poking fun at his “Crank” character Chev Chelios, Statham plays a hardass that exaggerates every situation he’s ever been in. The joke might be a bit one-note, but it’s one that is staggeringly hilarious every single time and Statham crushes every single scene he’s in.
Unfortunately for “Spy,” it’s a little top heavy. By the middle of the film, it begins to lose a lot of steam. Through some clever non-sequiturs and entertaining action sequences, it never fully loses its luster, yet it definitely begins to feel a little generic towards the middle of the film. It is usually saved with a laugh or funny moment, but it can’t help but feel a little too long in a few places.
Less goofy than an “Austin Powers” movie and far funnier than a James Bond film, “Spy” balances the action and comedy to varying degrees. Though it works far better as a comedy than as an action, spy film, it is clear that Feig put in some hard work in the tone and is able to mine some decent comedy out of the familiar tropes. There is also a lot of comedy from unexpected violence and vulgarity that keeps the audience on its toes and provides some really great moments. It’s a nice comeback for McCarthy and Feig, and particularly inspiring considering their biggest challenge of following up “Ghostbusters” is right on the horizon.