Spy movie full length review - A Missed Opportunity
"Fun feminist spy comedy;" "...perfectly enjoyable;" "A rib-tickling espionage spoof;" critics and audiences of America, you have been duped!
Spy is not very good, it's barely even passable both as a broad comedy and as a spy-spoof. I'm sorry but this stuff is the lowest of low hanging fruit and even the most seemingly learned among you are poised to be hosed here. Its not completely your fault though critics; I get it. Melissa McCarthy is a talented star. The mere fact that a woman of her, lets say unique perspective can become a popular cultural figure is a sure sign of progress in a certain sense. Additionally having a woman as a lead in a genre dominated by hetero-normative male tropes is beguiling, but in the case of Spy it's not only a missed opportunity, its a ruse and not a clever one either.
Let us start at the beginning. McCarthy plays a talented CIA analyst who is often paired up and runs interference for a suave, sophisticated field agent (Law). However after the agent's untimely death, the CIA quickly realizes that all their best agents are compromised. The only way they can recover a stolen nuclear weapon from a nefarious arms dealer is to put McCarthy's Susan into the field to gather intelligence and possibly save the world.
What could have been a truly ballsy, subversive routine ends up being a broad heckle from the sidelines. The first half of the movie consists of McCarthy's character being the butt of every mean spirited gag in the book. She's fat, she dresses poorly, she's homely etc. The thing is its not clever or thought out; its basically glorified improv; the director's excuse to let his players riff so he can cut everything together later. All of it sounds like the taunting of a dimwitted high school bully. Seriously, who acts this way without fully realizing their total dicks and impressing nobody. The only actor who is partially successful in balancing mean and funny is Jason Statham who by the last half-hour is transformed into a Falstaff-ian caricature lacking any real substance.
In fact, all of the characters, including Susan do somersaults to fit the plot compromising character motivations, traits and interests. Susan snaps from a scared, introverted analyst to a foul- mouthed, ass-kicker with the sudden sound of a cocked handgun. Another character murders and witnesses the murder of multiple people yet is reluctant to pull the trigger on a shoe-horned comic- relief character (Hart) because of...reasons. Jason Statham's character quits the CIA then does his own investigation to stop the people who murdered a colleague he hated because of...reasons. Bobby Cannavale's character wants to blow up the U.N. because of...reasons. You see a pattern emerging here? No matter let's all watch a gregarious Italian man grope Melissa McCarthy again.
The second act of the film consists of an escalating number of action set-pieces which offer nothing new to the genre; action, comedy, or otherwise. Its all so paint-by-numbers that rarely anything is given suspense. Even the jokes that pepper the chase sequences and close-quarters fighting are so painfully obvious, its hard not to let the mind wonder and miss the days of Austin Powers. By the third act all the dead horses are flogged and dead dogs boiled. All that's left to do is tag on convoluted double-crosses and swap allegiances a few times in the vein hope that the audience still cares about our all but ignored maguffin.
My main problem with Spy is it completely fails to lampoon or undermine the point of spy films, instead replicating the same tired comedy- spy schtick that's been around since Casino Royale (1967). They're male fantasies that not only glamorize violence, they glamorize living life in a haze of grey. James Bond, Ethan Hunt, Jason Bourne et al, they embrace the peril of a lifestyle that shifts with the alliances of criminals, terrorists, governmental bodies and femme fatales. "That's a Smith and Wesson and you've had your six," smirks Bond in Dr. No (1962) before killing a helpless assassin. They dispatch foes with the coolness of true professionals and we root for the characters despite their blood-lust. Spy seems so concerned with knocking on McCarthy's girth and gender that it fails to really get to why something like Mission: Impossible (1996) is a draw in the first place. Honestly, In Like Flint (1967) is post-actively a better take-down of sexism in action movies than Spy.
There are worse movies than Spy to be sure. Far from a nadir in the genre, to be sure (I can fill a days worth of column inches with terrible spy/action comedy movies). If broad, lazy comedy is your particular brand of weak tea, you may well get your money's worth with Spy. Yet with folks raving that this newest McCarthy vehicle is some kind of feminist provocation, I simply had to clear the air and say it's simply not. Like almost all American comedy over the last ten years, Spy is just another improv session among a stock cast of players all hoping their game of "park bench" ends up in the theatrical cut. What could have been a shot across the bow to male- dominated cinema ended up being the flick of a paper football tossed by a pig-tailed girl asking politely if she can play. If I were you, I'd just take my ball and go home.