Thursday, June 4, 2015

Review: "Spy"

"Spy" is a one-joke movie, but it's a pretty decent joke. Schlubby, timid Susan is a CIA drone who finally gets a chance to go out in the field, and to the surprise of everyone she's a total badass -- if a frequently clumsy one.

Because this is a comedy, so thar be pratfalls galore.

Given that description, you know Melissa McCarthy is the star. She's come on like a tornado in just a few short years to become one of Hollywood's most consistently popular stars. Even last year's limp "Tammy" made bank.

McCarthy just has that natural ability to make audiences like her, even when her character is behaving over the top. We sense a vulnerability beneath the bombast. She's an everygal who projects intelligence and the endearing awkwardness of someone who didn't get any of the big breaks in life.

The woman is a pip.

Here she's reunited with writer/director Paul Feig, who made her a star in "Bridesmaids" and followed it up by pairing McCarthy up with Sandra Bullock in "The Heat." This time she's got a couple of suave, macho male co-stars, though they're supporting parts and she's clearly the main show.

Jude Law plays Bradley Fine, a classic debonair 007 type who can mow through a whole building of bad guys on his own. Of course, he's got Susan in his head to help -- literally. She monitors him from base, sees and hears what he does, and uses a bunch of impressive spy gizmos to give Fine a leg up.

But when Fine goes missing in the field, presumed dead, Susan steps forward to keep up the pursuit of their quarry: Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), an icy Bulgarian who has stolen a small nuclear device and is looking to sell it to terrorists. Susan's job is to track Rayna and report back, but of course she soon jumps into the muck.

There's pushback, of course, from the agency. The boss (Allison Janney) isn't sure Susan has the right stuff. And Jason Statham turns up, essentially playing Jason Statham. He's a brash agent who keeps warning Susan that she's in danger of screwing up the mission -- usually right before he screws up the mission.

The movie is fitfully entertaining. There are several terrific laugh-out-loud moments. One bit, where Susan makes her first kill and then... overreacts to it is a great rolling joke that just keeps building.

And there are a number of good throwaway gags. Statham's character wants to know why he can't just jump into "the 'Face/Off' machine" to change his identity, and has to be reminded it's not a real thing. And Susan keeps getting stuck with lame secret identities, divorced cat ladies and such, which is mostly an excuse for McCarthy to dress up in fright wigs and goofy outfits.

I was also glad to see that, unlike "Tammy," there isn't a raft of fat jokes. Though the movie certainly uses McCarthy's size to comic effect, it's more about a dowdy woman discovering she can move like a ninja when her dander is up.

It's a fun movie, but there are too many dull stretches, especially in the second half. There are even some fairly pulse-pounding action sequences, and for awhile it seems like "Spy" forgets that it's a spoof.

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