Spy takes aim at high-tech, secret agent tropes, but it misses the target.
Somebody Does It Better
It starts so well.
The setting is a posh party in Varna, Bulgaria. Bradley Fine (Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley) is the finest agent of them all and he’s on a mission to recover a portable nuclear device from a bad, bad man. The fizzy mood and tone here match a James Bond pre-credits opening action sequence.
Bradley’s aid, Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy, St. Vincent), patched in via wireless communications, guides him through the mansion, tracking heat registers of where the bad guys are and even ordering missile strikes (on an as-needed basis).
Then Bradley sneezes and the results are devastating. It’s a jolt of laughter, a shocking sight gag that hits the high mark, but from there it’s pretty much downhill. At least it starts as a slow roll down the hill.
Cut to the opening credits; there’s a pop song a la James Bond (albeit an utterly forgettable one in this case). The credits and the music are accompanied by the familiar silhouettes of men in suits brandishing weapons. But there are no babes.
No. Not here.
For Their Eyes Only
It’s part of writer/director Paul Feig’s modus operandi to try to shake up the status quo and he’s made great strides in his collaborations with Melissa McCarthy, Hollywood’s latest “It” girl who’s also the latest celebrity with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Working with screenplays written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids) and Katie Dippold (The Heat), Feig has struck comedy gold and earned a reputation for shining a fresh, empowered light on female characters.
Here, working with his own screenplay, he has some strong ideas, but they’re not enough to flesh out 120 minutes of semi-mayhem and sorta-hilarity.
The spy spoof elements are fairly limited, but the staples are there. When Susan finally gets to move out from behind the desk and go out in the field, she’s given some gear. But it’s not the cool techy stuff. She’s given a rape whistle, hemorrhoid wipes, stool softener, and an analog watch (with a photo from the Bette Midler movie Beaches on the face).
Her aliases are equally mundane: Divorcees and cat ladies; frumpy, not sexy.
Those elements set up the movie for the potential to be something special, a “take that” jab at the male-dominated spy genre. Spy even features a tour of European capitals: Paris, Rome and Budapest.
Alas, the ambitions of the early going give way to tedium.
Feig makes McCarthy more sympathetic than she is in some of her other movies, including the awful Identity Thief. And they’re set to collaborate once again on a female teaming of Ghostbusters (along with a bevy of Saturday Night Live alum: Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong and Leslie Jones).
But, so far, this is the weakest of their projects. While it’s not exactly a one-note comedy, Spy doesn’t take advantage of the enormous possibilities at its disposal. In the world of Austin Powers, everything was game for a shakeup and Mike Myers honed in and created his own world of standout, over-the-top characters that rifled through the 1960s, sexuality, and spy madness. He also managed to be crude, but he kept it at a commercially-appealing PG-13 level. Here, a flash of male genitalia and a barrage of “F” bombs saddle Spy with an R.
Spy could’ve taken the female spin on that world, but it simply doesn’t want to work that hard.
Jason Statham (The Italian Job) shows off his comic chops as a super-duper-over-the-top master spy who’s done it all, like operating on his own broken arm with his other arm and sewing his own suits. He’s a funny caricature, but he also sticks out like a square peg. He’s the bull in the china shop; a little jarring, but at the same time, a welcome foil for Susan’s well-meaning, earnest ambitions.
And then there’s Rose Byrne (Neighbors) as Rayna Boyanov. As the main baddie, she’s another foil to Susan, but nowhere near to the extent she should be. As a character, Rayna is too typical and straightforward. If Spy really had guts, much more would’ve been done with Rayna and the other characters that populate Susan’s world.