By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — After her breakthrough, Oscar-nominated turn in Bridesmaids, funnywoman Melissa McCarthy seemed in danger of falling victim to the typecasting trap as Identity Thief, The Heat, and Tammy paraded by unimpressively.
But Spy lets her fly and gets her back at least in the direction of her comic high.
As an action heroine, no less, in an uneven but sporadically funny blend of comedy and action that provides a spirited lampooning of the conventions of the secret agent genre most characteristically defined by the James Bond flicks.
The targeted demographic is certainly McCarthy’s appreciative fans, but moviegoers steeped in the male-dominated superspy genre should be appreciative as well.
Originally titled “Susan Cooper,” after the character McCarthy plays, the espionage romp focuses on her deskbound, deceptively mild-mannered CIA analyst, working in a vermin-infested basement, who suddenly gets the chance to go out in the death-defying field as an undercover operative –- because she’s the only agent who won’t be recognized as such –- on assignment to recover a nuclear weapon before it ends up in terrorist hands.
On the job, she blossoms in amazing butt-kicking ways that defy credulity and compromise the film because they’re intended not as sight gags but as convincing armed conflict –- which they are not.
Jude Law leads a strong supporting cast as a dapper superspy, with Jason Statham as a deadpan rival agent, Rose Byrne as an arms dealer, Allison Janney as the agency chief, Bobby Cannavale as a terrorist, and Miranda Hart as Susan’s colleague and best friend.
Director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat), working with McCarthy for a third time, delivers a globetrotting (Rome, Paris, Budapest) action-comedy that has understated but noticeable feminist underpinnings.
It’s like a Bond flick that revolves around Miss Moneypenny instead of 007.
But it’s his approach to the action sequences –- which can best be described as playing it surprisingly straight –- that sets up the comedy as blessed relief but that also allows them to pop up so often and go on so long that the film ends up wearing out its welcome after winning us over early on.
There’s plenty of violence, some of it quite graphic, and a preponderance of R-rated dialogue. Both are appropriate to the genre, but are simply overdone. In both cases, more quickly becomes less.
However, Feig wisely avoids the trap of making the film a one-woman show. Instead, he allows Law, Statham, Janney, and Byrne their moments, rendering the film the first real ensemble comedy for McCarthy since Bridesmaids.
So we’ll go undercover disguised as 2½ stars out of 4 for an erratic but entertaining comic espionage thriller, the first movie since Bridesmaids to effectively showcase Melissa McCarthy’s considerable talent and skill set.