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Spy

D: Paul Feig / 120m

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Serafinowicz, Morena Baccarin, Richard Brake, Nargis Fakhri, 50 Cent, Jude Law

CIA operatives Bradley Fine (Law) and Susan Cooper (McCarthy) are the best team in the organisation: Fine out in the field, Susan back at HQ guiding and protecting him on his missions. After Fine misses out on the chance to find the whereabouts of a nuclear weapon that’s up for sale – by accidentally shooting the seller – the CIA soon learns that the seller’s daughter, Rayna Boyanov (Byrne), has taken over the sale and through corrupt businessman Sergio De Luca (Cannavale) is offering it to terrorist Solsa Dudaev (Brake).

Fine infiltrates Rayna’s home but discovers it’s a trap; Susan has to watch as Rayna kills him. When it becomes clear that Rayna knows the identities of all of the CIA’s top agents, including gung-ho hothead Rick Ford (Statham), Susan volunteers to travel to Paris where De Luca has an office, and to report back any activity. Followed there by Ford, who thinks she’ll compromise the mission, Susan discovers that De Luca is now in Rome. Once there, she switches her dowdy undercover identity for a more upmarket one, and trails De Luca to a casino. She witnesses a man spike a drink at the bar; when the drink is delivered to none other than Rayna, Susan sees her chance to get close to Fine’s killer and find out the location of the nuclear weapon.

Gaining Rayna’s confidence, the pair fly to Budapest. During the flight one of the pilot tries to kill Rayna but Susan overpowers him and lands the plane instead. In the process she reveals her skills as an agent, and Rayna becomes convinced she works for the CIA. Susan manages to convince her that her father employed Susan to look after her. Rayna believes her story, but when they arrive in Budapest, matters are complicated by the arrival of Susan’s best friend and co-worker, Nancy (Hart) who has been sent to check on her. Pretending Nancy works for her, Susan foils another bid to kill Rayna, but in doing so finds herself at Rayna’s mercy, and with the sale of the nuclear weapon a matter of hours away.

Spy - scene

It’s been four short years since Melissa McCarthy shot to fame by defecating into a sink in the movie Bridesmaids (2011). In that time she’s continued with her role in the TV show Mike & Molly, had a minor role in This Is 40 (2012), given supporting turns in The Hangover Part III (2013) and St. Vincent (2014), co-starred with Sandra Bullock in The Heat (2013), and headlined two movies of her own, Identity Thief (2013) and Tammy (2014). If the last two movies didn’t exactly set critical pulses racing, both took over $100,000,000 worldwide, proving that audiences enjoyed watching slight variations on the character she first played in director Paul Feig’s earlier movie.

But it was a character that had a limited shelf life, and with Spy, McCarthy and Feig have wisely broadened their horizons, and in so doing, have given the actress her best role yet. As the ten years desk bound CIA agent who dreams of some excitement in her life, McCarthy delivers a performance that is at once more controlled and less wayward. In creating Susan Cooper, McCarthy shows that she has much more to offer than pratfalls and foul-mouthed schtick (even though there’s room for both here, just not as much as usual), and is more than capable of playing a fully rounded character. It’s good to see her owning the material as well and riffing on it to such good effect, making Susan possibly her most endearing, and appealing role to date, and entirely worthy of the movie itself.

For the best thing about Spy is that it’s consistently funny, whether it’s subverting genre conventions by thrusting the backroom girls into the spotlight, making Fine a preening douche, Ford a ridiculous blowhard, or giving Susan some of the worst makeovers in history for her undercover identities, the movie has great fun in spoofing the spy/action movie while maintaining a more serious subplot about Susan’s gaining enough self-confidence to fulfil her potential as an agent. That Feig’s script has the confidence to attempt both, and then succeed with seeming ease, adds to the movie’s lustre, and makes it all the more enjoyable.

As already noted, McCarthy delivers her best role to date, and she’s matched by the surprise – and inspired – casting of Statham as the kind of agent who can’t pass up an opportunity for a bit of self-aggrandisement. On this evidence, Statham should do more comedy, as here he’s hilarious, shouting and swearing like a man on the brink of a psychotic break, and making the kinds of boasts that are so absurd he doesn’t know how idiotic he sounds. But where Ford’s boasting is a highlight, he’s still outdone by the insults traded between Susan and Rayna, some of which are the funniest putdowns heard in recent years (and particularly when it comes to Rayna’s hairdo). Byrne and McCarthy have a great time deadpanning their lines at each other, and so does the audience as each insult escalates their dislike of each other’s character.

In support, Serafinowicz is irrepressible as Susan’s Italian contact, Aldo, for whom large bosoms are the key to happiness; Law is debonair, charming and an unfeeling arse; Janney is the CIA chief who sees promise in Susan’s wish to work in the field; Cannavale doesn’t really feature until the last twenty minutes; 50 Cent plays himself; and in a role that doesn’t see her stretch too far from her British TV persona, Hart racks up enough laughs as Nancy to have done her US career no harm at all. In short, it’s a great cast, and they all deliver as required.

The European locations are filmed by Robert D. Yeoman with that travelogue sheen that enhances even the most attractive of regions or cities, and as a result the movie is attractive to look at throughout. The music by Theodore Shapiro is occasionally overbearing, but this is due to its prominence in the sound mix rather than any compositional issues, and McCarthy’s wardrobe, courtesy of Christine Bieselin Clark, fluctuates from plain and functional to horrendous to glamorous (though her final look in the movie makes her appear too much like Dawn French for comfort). And the action scenes are splendidly realised, including a terrific fight between McCarthy and  Fakhri that wouldn’t look out of place in a… well, in a Jason Statham movie.

Rating: 8/10 – consistently entertaining, Spy is a treat for fans of McCarthy and spy spoofs in general; with a script that knows when to be serious and when to be gloriously silly, it’s a movie that is infectious in its desire to please its audience, something it does with no small amount of style and wit.

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