June 05, 2015


I said ... NO ROSEMARY!

Grade: B
Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale and Allison Janney
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hr.

Spy isn’t just the latest spy movie spoof. On a more subversive level, it’s a whiparound both the casting stereotypes film actresses constantly combat and the varying typecasting that headliner Melissa McCarthy has encountered during her ascent from character actor to bankable movie star.

McCarthy plays Sarah Cooper, an unassuming imp who suppressed her abilities and aspirations of becoming a death-defying CIA field agent for the sake of safe, desk-bound analyst assignment in a Langley basement infested with bats and rats (why? we never know).

Cooper dutifully serves as the remote eyes and ears for Bradley Fine (Jude Law), her partner and dashing James Bond-ian secret agent. When Fine is killed by Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), a Bulgarian arms baroness, and the identities of the regular roster of CIA agents are compromised, Cooper volunteers to track Boyanov and a nuclear football device she is trying to sell to an Italian playboy/terrorist (Bobby Cannavale).

Cooper’s evolving undercover identities begin as a portly middle-aged marm with a perm and a purse full of spy gadgets disguised as fungal toe spray, stool softener, hemorrhage wipes and a “Beaches”-themed wristwatch. Later, Cooper’s CIA minder (Allison Janney) recasts her as a bespectacled cat lover with a penchant for needlepoint.

But as Cooper’s latent agent acumen gets her closer to Boyanov and her value to the mission rises, she dons an evening gown and the same glamorous appearance McCarthy briefly flashed in the otherwise wretched Identity Thief to worm her way into Boyanov’s inner circle. Then Cooper adopts a Nikita-esque mystique as Boyanov’s would-be bodyguard.

Along the way, Cooper is aided by her CIA bestie Nancy (Miranda Hart) and Rick Ford, played by Jason Statham in a hilarious riff on his own intense movie caricature, whose bravado over his secret agent exploits ends up being mostly bluster.

Reteaming with writer-director Paul Feig, who also directed McCarthy in Bridesmaids and created Freaks and Geeks, clearly gives McCarthy a much-needed comfort level while surrounding her with capable comic foils like Hart, Law, Statham and Peter Serafinowicz, who plays a handsy Italian agent named Aldo. The same benefit inures to Byrne, whose own post-Bridemaids comedies didn’t afford her the zazy latitude she relishes here as a ruthless but ultimately toothless baddie sporting an elaborate wig and a penchant for foul-mouthed non sequiturs.

Spy isn’t a classic spy satire—its chuckles are earned but intermittent. But it’s a capable McCarthy vehicle, and while the comedienne’s other recent headlining efforts have ranged from middling (The Heat) to miserable (Tammy; Identity Thief again), Spy jettisons the easy fat gags and allows her character to transcend and eventually skewer stereotypes, not perpetuate them.

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