Spy (United States, 2015)

June 04, 2015
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Spy Poster

Summer is the season of bloat and the trait is evident in Spy's excessive running length. At about 90 minutes, this would have been a fresh, breezy action-comedy. However, with an additional half-hour of padding, viewers are forced to endure stretches of tedium. Humor, like any intense ingredient, is best when presented in a concentrated form. By lasting two hours, Spy dilutes it past the point of peak effectiveness. The problem is that writer/director Paul Feig became too enamored with his storyline which, at best, could be described as a lame James Bond parody.  By spending too much time developing the feeble narrative without offering viewers anything surprising or clever, he undercuts the elements of Spy that work.

I have always found that Melissa McCarthy, like Jack Black, is best absorbed in small doses.  Her most effective movie performance to-date is Bridesmaids, where she had a supporting role. Thrust into the lead of such films as The Heat, Identity Thief, and Tammy, she has worn out her welcome; her characters tend to be more annoying than appealing. Two hours of McCarthy is too much. There are instances when she exhibits a gift for physical comedy but there's no consistency. Her co-stars fare somewhat better, although Rose Byrne as the villainous Rayna Boyanov is strangely unfunny and Jude Law is uneven as the 007-inspired Bradley Fine. Jason Statham, as Rick Ford, is consistently amusing (in limited screen time) as an anger-fueled bumbler from the Inspector Clouseau school of heroism.  (Imagine: Statham channeling Sellers.) Miranda Hart is over-the-top but only occasionally obnoxiously so.

The film begins with a dash of promise.  The first sequence is a direct satire of Bond openings (sans iris), with dashing superspy Bradley Fine seeking to locate a suitcase nuke while deskbound agent Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) feeds him tactical information through an earpiece. This leads into opening credits that offer homage to the iconic 007 title sequences. Then Spy starts to falter. After the antagonist, Rayna, removes Fine from the equation and indicates that she recognizes all the other famous agents, Susan in pressed into undercover duty because of her anonymity. She pursues Rayna across Europe, making contact when circumstances demand it. The belligerent Ford appears from time-to-time to complicate matters but, in the end, everything depends on Susan to save the day.

Spy is irreverent but perhaps not irreverent enough. Some of the best scenes involve Susan adopting the persona of a tough-talking no-nonsense bodyguard, but there aren't enough of these. There's also an inventive kitchen fight scene with McCarthy and Nargis Fakhri that displays a Jackie Chan influence in the way that anything and everything becomes a weapon. The ending, however, is lackluster and, with the exception of an amusing gag focused on Statham, forgettable.

Spy probably would have been more engaging if it wasn't being released too soon in the wake of the superior Kingsman: The Secret Service, which has a similar agenda. The film also would have been more enjoyable if Feig didn't expend so much time and energy trying to convince us there's a real story here. There isn't. The characters are one-dimensional. The narrative is flat and obvious. The point (as is true of most mass-market comedies) is to make us laugh. It succeeds at that goal but not enough and certainly not with sufficient frequency to justify taking up 120 minutes of the viewer's time. This is disposable entertainment best investigated when it makes its way to a home viewing option.

Spy (United States, 2015)

Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney
Home Release Date: 2015-09-29
Screenplay: Paul Feig
Cinematography: Robert D. Yeoman
Music: Theodore Shapiro
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 2:00
U.S. Release Date: 2015-06-05
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Content)
Genre: Comedy/Action
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1