For the third time now, writer/director Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy have proven they’re a dynamic comedy duo with the action-comedy Spy. Feig managed to write and direct a film that perfectly blends edge-of-your-seat action with ridiculously funny comedy and McCarthy, who previously worked with Feig in both Bridesmaids and The Heat, has once again proven that she’s one of the funniest women in Hollywood with her punchy combination of attitude and mastery of sight gags. Thanks to Feig’s writing, McCarthy’s delivery, and a solid supporting cast that includes Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, and Jude Law, Spy is one of those rare comedy films that works on virtually every level and never feels like it’s trying too hard.
The film takes its time in establishing the core characters which is great because it shows how infectious McCarthy’s mastery of comedy is on actors who aren’t otherwise known for comedic roles. McCarthy plays timid and unassuming CIA handler Susan Cooper who works in tandem with debonair super-spy Bradley Fine (Law), acting as his eyes and ears whenever he’s out on a mission. When Bulgarian arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (McCarthy’s Bridesmaids co-star Rose Byrne) reveals she’s planning to sell off a nuclear bomb and that she knows the names of the CIA’s top agents, including Fine and the super-intense hothead Rick Ford (Statham), Cooper must step up and embark on a globe-trotting adventure to track Boyanov and put a stop to her plans. Along the way, Cooper is assisted by her friend and fellow CIA analyst Nancy (Miranda Hart), her amorous foreign contact Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz), and her boss Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney).
One of Spy’s biggest strengths is that it doesn’t rely too heavily on one kind of comedy and instead works hard to keep surprising (and delighting) viewers with new laugh-inducing antics. Of course there are the obvious cheap shots like poking fun at McCarthy’s non-spy appearance (she’s given cover aliases such as divorced mother of three who sells Mary K products or a “cat lady” with grandma hair and large glasses) but they’re just the tip of the comedic iceberg. There’s also the running gag that the CIA “basement” (the offices were analysts work) is constantly infested with rodents like mice and bats and Cooper’s hilarious yet surprisingly practical “spy arsenal” which is made up of gadgets disguised as products like fungal cream and hemorrhoid wipes.
The most uproariously funny parts however don’t come from McCarthy but from Statham’s Ford who brilliantly plays a caricature of the action roles he is known for by constantly trying to “one up” Cooper with crazy stories of his exploits (“I’m immune to 172 different kinds of poison! I know because I drank them all at once and survived!”). Byrne’s Boyanov also develops a funny sort of “frienemy” dynamic with Cooper in which she constantly mocks Cooper’s outfit or other physical traits. At first Cooper just sort of takes it in stride but she eventually starts giving as good as she gets, resulting in several hilarious exchanges of graphically rude barbs between the two female leads. Cooper’s more intense attitude towards Boyanov is contrasted by her dynamic with Hart’s Nancy who is just as bumbling and lovable as Cooper and who helps to add another comedic facet to the sticky situations Cooper ends up in.
Given Spy’s ability to hit all the right comedic notes, you might think the action takes a backseat as a result but you’d be wrong. When Spy isn’t making you cry with laughter, it’s wowing you with top-notch action sequences that include hand-to-hand fight scenes, car chases, a crazy close-quarters encounter on a private jet, and an expertly-choreographed “knife fight” that highlights Cooper’s ability to improvise in the moment. The action scenes do get a little too graphically violent at times (some parts are definitely not for squeamish viewers) but the violence isn’t so over-the-top that it takes the viewer out of the film’s comedic immersion. If anything, the action scenes prove that McCarthy isn’t afraid to step into the same high-octane situations as her male co-stars. In fact, her action scenes end up being more engaging, if only because viewers have likely seen Jason Statham or Jude Law beat up a room full of dudes countless times before.
In addition to the sometimes unnecessarily gratuitous violence, Spy’s only other weakness is a strong sense of predictability. Most seasoned movie-watchers will likely be able to guess the film’s major plot twists and developments long before they actually happen. While this certainly doesn’t stifle the movie’s ability to make viewers laugh, it does make Spy feel a little too “safe” in regards to its character development since none of the characters ever really break out of their established roles (with the exception of Cooper). While viewers likely aren’t going to see a movie like Spy for its character development or story, the film’s overt predictability is a noticeable blemish on an otherwise highly-polished script.
In an industry over-saturated with comedies that rely too much on gross bathroom humor and action movies that star protagonists as generic as the explosions they cause, Spy expertly avoids both pitfalls and presents a wonderfully engaging action-comedy adventure starring a fun female protagonist who makes balancing action and comedy look easy. Even with its overtly violent bits and predictable narrative, Spy manages to completely reinvent not one but two different film genres and once again proves that Melissa McCarthy is not only hilarious on her own but that she’s also very good at coaxing comedic talent out of her co-stars. If you’re in the mood for a movie that will make you keel over with laughter and also wow you with some truly impressive action scenes along the way, Spy is one summer blockbuster you won’t want to miss.