Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Jude Law
CIA analyst Susan Cooper (McCarthy) is the unsung hero that sits behind the desk and assists dashing agent Bradley Fine (Law) with dangerous missions, but despite her analytical skills is destined to be behind her desk for her entire career. However after their agents are all compromised, despite her often clumsy nature she has to go deep undercover to stop a global nuclear threat.
…and of course all sorts of hilarity ensue!
In what is now his third directorial collaboration with Melissa McCarthy, and his first film as both writer and director, it seems that with Spy Paul Feig is still happy to embrace all the stylistic choices of Judd Apatow comedies, even though it is not produced by Apatow. This for me is always a problem as though it may not be quite as self-indulgent and smug as some of Apatow’s films as both producer and director, Spy still absolutely wreaks of ill-discipline which does ultimately prevent it from being as enjoyable as it could and should have been.
I know I often go on about it, but it seems that in mainstream comedies these days all involved seem to think all is needed is for them to enjoy themselves and have the faintest of narratives held together by what are essentially a series of overlong improvised sketches. As per usual we also have an outrageously uninventive title, but that is probably intentional.
Though Spy certainly has more of a plot than the likes of Bridesmaids, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Bad Neighbours, This is 40 or Knocked Up, like those films it could have benefited with more disciplined and rigorous editing, as at 120 minutes it is a good 30 minutes too long. At times Spy does really drag as we have pointless scenes and gags that are drawn out for far longer than is necessary. While the plot itself certainly has a fair twists and turns, though it does naturally follow a clear narrative path, it often feels that Feig did make this up as he went along. I am of course sure he didn’t, but it certainly feels very slapdash and does at times tie itself up in knots.
I am sure that when the film comes out in DVD there will be a countless collection of deleted scenes which are essentially different versions of the scenes that made the film, and some may describe a director giving his actors free reign to improvise as a relationship of creative freedom and respect (or some nonsense like that). Well I describe it as annoying ill-discipline and self-indulgence, and though Spy is not quite as extreme an example of this compared to other films, it does prevent it from being the better film it could have been.
Of course with comedies the plot is not necessarily the most important thing, and Feig assembles an admittedly diverse all-star cast to fit around McCarthy’s protagonist with mixed results. Feig has previously been able to get the best out of McCarthy as he seems to be able to reign her in slightly and Susan is at times a very likable protagonist worth routing for, as well as being quite charming and funny. There are certainly plenty of scenes where McCarthy does threaten to undo the good work she has done and gets carried away with the crude obscenities that are never funny and always immature and irritating, but compared to likes of the hideous film that was Tammy, there are not enough of these to completely ruin the film.
The rest of the cast all certainly enjoy themselves and Rose Byrne suitably vamps it up as the film’s antagonist, demonstrating not only a knack for comic timing, but sharing good on-screen chemistry with McCarthy in many of the scenes the two share. Admittedly though each of them serve their own purpose, Spy would have not been harmed from being without one of Miranda Hart, Jason Statham or Jude Law. Whether one finds Miranda Hart’s character funny basically depends on whether they like her TV show (I cannot stand it) as it is exactly the same character. Though as the part was written specifically for her by Feig after he watched her TV show, admittedly that may not be entirely her fault, but there is no denying she does share good chemistry with McCarthy and I would not be surprised if there were future collaborations between the two of them.
Jason Statham was for me the best thing about the film as angry, misogynistic and very stupid English agent. He has never been afraid to use the occasional comic line in his own films, and in Spy he plays a character that is essentially a parody of the character he so often plays, and some of his dialogue seems to almost mock his entire filmography. It is for this reason that his ridiculously over the top performance works, for if it were someone else it would seem to be, in isolation, a terrible case of over acting, but the Stath pulls it off. Meanwhile Jude Law suitably pouts and smarms as the James Bond-esque Bradley Fine, but in what is certainly an over-abundance of characters, is the most forgettable. Deserving a mention despite being in what is a minor role, Allison Janney pretty much steals every scene she is in a humourless CIA chief.
As the plot goes along for what is a way too overlong running time it manages to combine a predictable protagonist journey with a plot that feels like it was made up as they went along, and it is admittedly just about engaging, but is on the whole highly forgettable. There are obvious stylistic and narrative send ups of the spy genre and attempts at reversing the gender roles of what is of course a traditionally male centric genre, these hit and miss as much as the seemingly improvised gags. Though Feig does deliver some slick action set pieces which are good fun. With a lot more rigorous discipline on the editing and gag delivery, Spy could have been a highly entertaining and riotous genre spoof, but is yet another mainstream comedy with as many moments that are fun and hilarious as are frustrating and boring. It is worth a watch, but don’t expect it to live long in the memory.
Fun and frustration in equal measure; though Spy has plenty of good and genuinely hilarious moments, as well as thankfully a more reigned in (and therefore more likeable) Melissa McCarthy, its total lack of discipline often undermines the good work it does.