With a Little Help From Some Friends, by Scott Nye
If you have seen the poster for the motion picture Spy, the expectations it creates are more or less precisely fulfilled. Nobody, including the characters in the film, would expect a woman of Melissa McCarthy’s size/age/personality to be running around doing spy stuff, but oh my, she is doing just that. If this basic concept seems appealing, the movie will go a long way, as most of writer/director Paul Feig’s jokes relate back to how wildly unexpected the characters find this. But rather than have fun with the concept of someone totally inept being forced to the front lines of a major espionage operation, it turns out CIA analyst Susan Cooper isn’t quite as mild-mannered as she might seem. Secretly, she’s intensely-trained and capable, and before long, the movie turns into more or less a straight action movie with a few more jokes than are typically present.
McCarthy’s fairly game for this, and the duality of her role gives her plenty of opportunities to show some range, but it’s her supporting players who really save this thing. Hell, just getting Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Allison Janney, and Peter Serafinowicz in any movie is a pretty fantastic coup. Only Jude Law, as the film’s James Bond substitute, seems out to sea, neither quite playing the jokes straight or wacky. They all work (along with the lesser-known, but equally-talented Miranda Hart) as foils to Susan, in one way or another, nicely bringing out a variety of character traits that reveal her naturally, with little exposition required. Her romantic longing for Law’s character is mirrored by Serafinowicz’s sexual longing for her, and her reactions to both of their teasing advances say it all. More revealing is Byrne’s villainous billionaire, who nearly steals the show, undermining Susan at every turn as the latter tries to worm her way into the former’s operation.
But Statham…Statham is in a whole other league. Hiss comedic persona has largely been tied up in a spiky personality with an accent. He’s droll, sharp-witted, and sexually aggressive. What Spy realizes is that his more familiar action star personality, formed by the Transporter movies and years of Jason Statham Januarys – ultra-competent, blithe, unphased by the outrageous feats he’s accomplished, and able to twist even the most impossible situations to his advantage – is by far the funnier. Spy’s best scene involves nothing more than Statham recounting increasingly-impossible physical feats (including gaining immunity to 187 different types of poison, and successfully posing as President Obama in a speech before Congress) to an unbelieving McCarthy. Spy is forgettable enough to never see again; if this scene should be made available on its own, I’ll never stop watching it.
Spy’s ultimate point is the message of mainstream movies for decades – people may undermine and -estimate you, but ultimately you’ll prove them wrong with how awesome you are. It suggests that those who are more attractive/accomplished/affluent than you are secretly faking it (or just plain evil), so it’s barely worth considering that gulf. The jokes are funny enough to engage, but rarely gut-busting enough to be memorable, and the whole action side of things is given a level of credence (though not technical skill or imagination) the film can never quite support. It’s a suitable time-passer. See it on a date.