Few actors, male or female, comedic or dramatic, have a better track record than Melissa McCarthy. She’s carried “Bridesmaids,” “Identity Thief,” and “The Heat” all past the $100 million mark and even the critical flop “Tammy” managed to laugh sparsely all the way to the bank. I trashed most of these films (I did have some nice things to say about “Bridesmaids” in between complaints that it went on forever) and they became successful, but now that I find “Spy” moderately funny, I’m finally okay with watching its box office soar.
McCarthy stars as Susan Cooper, a CIA desk jockey who serves as the eyes and ears for debonair secret agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law). She yearns to do more with her job, which I found odd because she launches a missile from a satellite at one point, so it’s not like she’s filling out requisition forms all day. She’s also tired of being stuck in the friend zone with Fine, who is too stupid to see that he’s constantly breaking her heart.
On a “too easy” mission, Fine gets taken out by Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), possessor of a deadly bomb. She lets the CIA know that she knows the identity of all of their agents and she’ll know if they’re coming after her (she should probably be keeping that to herself, but this is a movie where villains always talk too much). So the head of the CIA (Allison Janney) decides that she needs to send out an employee who’s not a field agent. Cooper volunteers, wanting to avenge Fine. She is chosen over a headstrong veteran agent (Jason Statham) who decides to quit the CIA and pursue Rayna himself, even if it compromises Susan’s mission.
Susan is given a series of embarrassing secret identities (frumpy soccer mom, frumpy cat lady, frumpy suburban makeup seller) and makes a lot of rookie mistakes in the field that somehow always turn out okay. A particularly sketchy mission actually sees Susan “befriend” Boyanov, and an emergency leads to her creating her own secret identity. This tough, vulgar switch-up leads to by far the biggest McCarthy-related laughs in the movie, absolutely zero of which can be quoted here.
The supporting cast is apparently playing a game of “Who Can Steal the Movie?” Statham is trying the hardest, sending up his macho persona with a series of dubious tales of grandeur (I’m told that some of them are relayed directly from his movies). Law has fun sending up the stereotypical suave British agent. Bobby Cannavale relishes in his villainous role as an arms dealer. Miranda Hart has a juicy role as Susan’s weirdo best friend, as does Peter Serafinowicz as an amorous European agent. But my vote goes to Rose Byrne as Rayna. Sometimes the character is cold and calculating, sometimes she’s crude and clumsy, but she’s always played to snooty perfection.
A lot of the individual gags work fine, but the movie as a whole is a mess. The plot is overly complicated with a never-ending parade of bad guys and flip-flopping allegiances. Also, for the story to work the CIA has to be incredibly incompetent, which makes the first third of the movie play like a less-witty episode of “Archer.” Perhaps worst of all is that so many gags rely on Susan’s awkwardness, which gets grating after a while. Are people really coming to this movie for scenes where she rambles on, digging herself deeper after a faux pas?
I can see where people would like “Spy.” It’s easy to identify with the taken-for-granted Susan and the film has plenty of funny one-liners and quirky supporting characters. But I’m not sold on the film overall. I don’t see what makes it any better than dozens of other spy spoofs about bumbling amateur agents. The film does have its moments, but the movie surrounding those moments isn’t as memorable as it wants to be.
Two Stars out of Five
The film is rated R for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity. Its running time is 120 minutes.