Spy (20th Century Fox Film Corporation, R)

Spy 75It’s a nice, tight film, and thoroughly enjoyable; I’d go so far as to say it’s Feig’s best film yet.

 

 

 

 

Spy 500

I’ll be watching with much interest to see how Paul Feig’s Spy performs in the box office: it’s what is traditionally a testosteroney, male-dominated genre film (the genre in question being spy movies, duh), but almost entirely gender switched; our lead spy, Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy, who’s always at her best when she’s working with Feig), is a regular-looking female, where most of the men that surround her are gorgeous but serve little purpose apart from being eye candy. But beyond the whole gender-switched genre film thing, Spy is very good; all the more reason to follow its box office earnings. If it does well, hopefully we’ll see more films like it.

Agent Cooper doesn’t begin the film plugged into the sexy world of being a CIA spy, or not exactly, anyway; she works in the vermin-ridden CIA offices watching Agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) through a computer setup as he does the on-the-ground work, warning him of traps around corners, approaching people with guns, possible exits, etc. After a turn of events that reveals the identities of all of the CIA’s top agents to Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne, who is also always at her best when working with Feig—can we just say that he’s a great director of comedic actors?), who is trying to sell a nuclear warhead to a terrorist organization, the CIA needs an able agent whose name and face wouldn’t be recognizable to those they’re tracking. Enter Cooper, who at one point says she looks like “someone’s homophobic aunt.” (One of Spy’s funnier running gags involves all of the identities the CIA dreams up for Cooper, of which all are stereotypical of middle-aged white women: spinster cat ladies, telemarketers, etc.)

Though this is really McCarthy’s show, all of Spy’s copious supporting roles are perfectly cast, and, as noted above, perfectly directed. A particular delight is Jason Statham’s blowhard Agent Rick Ford, who thinks much of himself but does virtually nothing but jeopardize Agent Cooper’s cover.  (Side note: Maybe Agent Susan Cooper is related to Twin Peaks’ Agent Dale Cooper?  Because that would be awesome.) This has to be the first film I’ve ever liked Statham in. Elsewhere we have other agents played by people like Morena Baccarin and relative newcomer (in American cinema, at least) Brit Miranda Hart, who is positioned to be this film’s biggest breakout. The CIA is run by Elaine Crocker, who is played by Allison Janney, a master at dry delivery. A person of interest in the case is Sergio De Luca (Bobby Cannavale), who has some mostly-unknown connection to Boyanov.

Paul Feig has found most of the success in his career directing television, which he’s one of the best at, and his big film breakout was 2011’s Bridesmaids. I liked Bridesmaids but found it a little overlong; Spy looks like it’s going to be the same way, clocking in at 122 minutes but, in fact, it’s a nice, tight film, and thoroughly enjoyable; I’d go so far as to say it’s Feig’s best film yet. Between this, Bridesmaids, and 2013’s The Heat, only Spy has him directing his own screenplay, and there’s a pleasing Tina Feyishness to the comedy on display here. Given Feig’s predilection for directing the comediennes of Saturday Night Live (Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph in Bridesmaids, Wiig and Cecily Strong in the upcoming all-female Ghostbusters reboot), it seems strange that Feig and Fey haven’t teamed up yet. Come on, Hollywood producers; I’m handing you gold here! | Pete Timmermann

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