Rising comedic superstar Melissa McCarthy is the main attraction in “Spy,” a hit-and-miss comedy that entertains even as it treads where dozens of James Bond spoofs have gone before. In a nice change of pace, McCarthy lays her aggressive, foul mouthed persona aside (temporarily) to play Susan Cooper, a wallflower of a CIA agent chained to a desk and her unrequited love for superspy Bradley Fine (Jude Law).
As Fine JamesBonds his way around the globe living the dream life of a secret agent, Susan assumes the role of his resourceful guardian angel. Stuck in a CIA basement, it is Susan’s job to feed Fine’s earpiece with all the information he needs to stay alive and complete his mission.
The story’s first of many nifty plot twists arrives in the person of Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), a lethal, spoiled aristocrat who might be the only lead the Agency has to a nuclear suitcase about to go up for sale to terrorists. Boyanov has a mole in the CIA. She knows the name and face of every field agent. Following her will require someone unknown, unlikely, and invisible.
Guess who that is?
In their third outing together (the very funny “Bridesmaids” and highly overrated “The Heat”), writer/director Paul Feig gives McCarthy the whole show. This is her movie, and she makes the most of it. Fans need not worry. One of her covers requires the appearance of the coarse, belligerent McCarthy you know and love — a character much easier to take in small doses.
“Spy” is sometimes funny, never hilarious, but always entertaining, even as some of the running jokes wear thin. Jason Staham’s immasculated turn as a rogue agent constantly spouting his bravado gets old fast. As does the sexual stream-of-consciousness that forever spews from Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz), one of Susan’s contacts in the field.
Susan is a big girl, and there’s plenty of slapstick taking appropriate advantage of that fact. She’s also surprisingly agile and lethal. One of the film’s primary conceits is that Susan has always had the makings of a legitimate superspy, a spy superior even to the vain and needy Fine. She just didn’t want to leave him. Nevertheless, when McCarthy moves like Bruce Lee to dispatch with a half-dozen armed men, this isn’t played for laughs, and that is an awful lot of reality to suspend.
“Spy” is R-rated for a litany of F-words. Thankfully, there is no sign of the gross-out, body fluid humor that sinks so many present-day comedies. The butt and boob stuff is pretty tame by any standard, not just today’s.
There is also a heavy streak of feminism. Except for a few lines from Cooper’s boss (Allison Janney), this theme remains unspoken, but Feig is obviously (and aggressively) uprooting genre archetypes to make a statement that women are every bit as ready as men to assume the role of the screen hero. Unfortunately, Feig’s attempt to have us buy into the idea that Susan Cooper is the stuff of a young Steven Seagal is one of the funniest parts of the movie. And I don’t think that was intentional.
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