Sunday 4 December 2016

Movie review: Spy - 'Feig and lead Melissa McCarthy have struck up a very fine cinematic partnership'

Tanya Sweeney

Published 05/06/2015 | 15:55

Hero: Melissa McCarthy steals the show as novice agent Susan in comedy caper 'Spy'
Hero: Melissa McCarthy steals the show as novice agent Susan in comedy caper 'Spy'

Paul Feig’s recent run as a director is the stuff of Hollywood dreams. Bridesmaids proved to be an industry game-changer, while The Heat was a rapturously received cop romp with oodles of laughs. As such, Feig has likely been handed the keys to the castle. Movie financiers deem him a safe pair of hands… and boy, is he ever going to have fun with those wallet-busting budgets.

4*

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If the abundance of posters in my local cinema is anything to go by, Spy is one of Fox’s big movies of the summer, and it’s likely that it will hit box-office gold this weekend. As well it might: Feig and lead Melissa McCarthy have struck up a very fine cinematic partnership.

Spy is pitched somewhere between a send-up of the Bond/Jason Bourne franchises; the opening credits unfold against the familiar swell of a sexy, epic ballad. But it’s no common-or-garden spoof. Sure, it subverts the male-dominated genre, but as a film in its own right, it has more heart and soul than either.

The action kicks off, improbably enough, in Bulgaria, where oily spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law) has been despatched on a mission. He is rather nimble with the shoot-outs and the karate chops… but only thanks to a voice in his earpiece.

Back in CIA headquarters, desk jockey Susan Cooper (McCarthy) doles out the instructions that keep him good at his job. While Fine gets the glamorous gigs, Susan is dealing with office vermin and the humdrum of workaday life. Susan moons over Fine like a lovesick puppy; he presumes she likes cupcakes and has lots of cats.

However, a leak puts paid to the missions of the agency’s best known agents, meaning that an unknown has to be despatched to enter the field and find the owners of a nuclear bomb, of which one is the very dangerous Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne). The Oxford-educated daughter of a despot, Boyanov looks like Middle Eastern royalty, orders up assassinations like others ask for martinis, and swears like a fishwife.

Thanks to a slew of aliases (Avon lady, Ohio tourist), Susan is sent to Paris to view them from afar (contact with the baddies is strictly verboten). It’s not long, of course, before curiosity and ambition get the better of her and she is rumbled… and that’s when a sticky situation becomes even worse (if fun for us).

Eventually, however, the formerly meek office mouse becomes a kick-ass dynamo.

The laughs don’t come full-pelt, but when they do, they are immensely gratifying and hearty (actual, proper LOL count: about 5. Not bad).

On first glance, the cast list looks as though someone threw a very large shepherd’s crook into a BATFA awards ceremony and yanked out a handful of randomers, but they work mighty well together.

Jason Statham injects plenty of menace to the frustrated agent Rick Ford (and is afforded some comedy wiggle-room too, for a change), while Byrne — another Feig regular — has a couple of choice moments, too.

But McCarthy, with her impeccable comic timing and gloriously expressive face, is Spy’s first, last and everything.

It’s impossible to deny that McCarthy shows up in the same sort of role time and time again (as with Rebel Wilson, I feel McCarthy needs to bust out a more serious, arthouse part soon to really show her verve and range). But Feig is clearly of the mindset that if it ain’t broke, don’t tamper with it.

He brings out the big guns, quite literally, with some truly nerve-jangling action scenes. Best of all, Spy looks as though it was heaps of fun to make.

That sort of joy always shows up in the finished product, and you can’t say fairer than that.

Comedy/Action. Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Jason Statham, Miranda Hart, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale. Director: Paul Feig. Cert: 15A

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