Monday, June 1, 2015

'Spy' review

If any genre is going to see a massive resurgence in 2015, it will certainly be the spy genre. After Matthew Vaughn kicked off the year with the incredibly entertaining Kingsman: The Secret Service, director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy have now teamed up to deliver the equally impressive action comedy Spy. What could have been another opportunity for a standard McCarthy comedy actually ends up being one of the most entertaining films of the year- a smart, well written Bond spoof that works as both a comedy and a good movie. With a terrific script from Feig and an excellent cast that includes stellar performances from McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham and Jude Law, Spy is the first must-see comedy of the summer.

Susan Cooper (McCarthy) is one of the best analysts at the CIA, working on missions with superspy Bradley Fine (Law) and saving his life on multiple occasions. Cooper and Fine make for a great team, but after an attack by criminal mastermind Rayna Boyanov (Byrne), the CIA finds themselves in a tricky situation. Boyanov knows the identity of every single CIA agent, which rules out star agents like Rick Ford (Statham) and Karen Walker (Morena Baccarin). However, she doesn't know Cooper, and with a burning desire to get out to the field, CIA director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) sends Cooper on the mission. After infiltrating Boyanov's organization, Cooper must find a way to gain her trust and stop Boyanov from selling a tactical nuclear missile to arms dealer Sergio de Luca (Bobby Cannavale). Through a serious of hilarious misadventures, Cooper goes from being a top desk agent to the most heroic spy in the CIA.

In a year where the best studio comedies have been shrill at worst and unfocused at best, what's most surprising about Spy is how tightly written it is. This is a hilarious comedy where the laughs flow from the situations that exist within a compelling story. The movie isn't built around scenarios and situations. It tries its hand in that during the first half hour of the movie (undoubtedly the weakest section of the film), but at some point during the screenwriting process, Feig really caught fire and wrote an absolutely dynamite comedy. He works to the strengths of all of the film's actors, creating a film that is purely a joy to watch.

I truly admire everything that the cast and crew did with this movie, but it all flows back to Feig. He crushes every aspect of Spy, and I wouldn't be surprised to see this turn into a franchise. And it's clear that he's both paying homage to Bond and spoofing the classic spy series. Like Vaughn did with Kingsman, Feig injects enough unique qualities and personality to Spy that it doesn't feel like a mere Bond spoof. There are some big-budget setpieces, crazy twists and just a tone that put a goofy smile on my face. The spy movie nerd in me was unleashed with this movie, and I think that Feig may have done an even better job than Vaughn in channeling that classic spy movie feel.

Feig deserves much of the credit, but he definitely had the benefit of an incredibly talented cast. At this point, Feig and McCarthy know each other's strengths, and this time, he's able to blend the foul-mouthed with the lovable to create a well developed character that works on so many levels. McCarthy does a phenomenal job with Susan Cooper and her arc as a hero is expertly done. And in a welcome change from what I've seen of her previous work, Spy laughs with Cooper, not at her. Sure, there's a few fat jokes every once in a while, but for the most part, Cooper is a likable and friendly woman who gets put in exceedingly ridiculous locales and situations.

McCarthy is front and center, but man, this supporting cast is incredible. Everybody gets their chance to shine and I just loved how this movie came together. Jason Statham shines as Rick Ford, the brash and vulgar agent (I don't think there's a single line of dialogue for Statham that doesn't feature an F-bomb) who's not quite as good as he thinks he is. The hilarious thing about Statham's performance is that he's playing his usual cliched character, but Feig twists it just enough so that it's funny. Statham solidifies himself here as a great comedic performer and I'd love to see him get some more roles in the near future.

Jude Law is also pretty solid in the movie, essentially playing the type of James Bond that Roger Moore would have done in the 1970s. It's campy, over-the-top and pretty funny. Morena Baccarin, Miranda Hart and Bobby Cannavale all get their chances to shine as well, with Hart giving an especially impressive performance. The final brilliant link of the cast is Rose Byrne. The gorgeous Australian actress did strong work in Seth Rogen's hilarious comedy Neighbors last year, and she's even better in Spy. What a funny performance. Boyanov is the perfect mix of evil genius and dry humor, and when she shows up, the film reinvigorates and it moves like a freight train the rest of the way.

Spy finally sets itself apart from many other comedies with its structure and tone. This is not a true comedy, in the typical sense of the word. This is an action comedy, more akin to Beverly Hills Cop or 21 Jump Street than a typical studio comedy. It has some stunning action scenes, big visual effects and it plays out much like a Bond film. From the opening action scene with Bradley Fine to the credits sequence that obviously channels Bond, to the way that the final half of the film plays out, everything feels like a carefully measured homage to the classic spy.

Yet at the same time, Spy feels like its own unique creation. The characters have their own stories and there are enough twists and turns so that it doesn't just feel like Feig is trying to mock Bond. There is a story here, characters are important and the dialogue is sharply written. And for a film that runs long for a comedy, Spy works so well- it takes a little while to get warmed up, but when it gets going, it's absolutely perfect.

Despite a rocky start, Spy slowly evolves to become a firecracker of an action comedy, equipped with a smart screenwriter, a classic retro Bond feel and some stellar performances. It's the first great comedy of 2015 and one of the funniest movies I've seen recently. McCarthy, Statham and Byrne are great, and I'm very excited about Paul Feig's career possibilities going forward. He's a funny dude, and Spy proves once and for all that he's the real deal. This is going to be one of the surprise hits of the summer and I couldn't be happier about that.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                            (8.5/10)

Image Credits: YouTube, Fox Movies, Fat Movie Guy

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