Let me tell you one thing: “Spy” is an exhilarating hybrid of action and comedy a lot funnier than whatever its very simple title suggests. With its brash, indomitable comic spirit ready for more outrageous things coming along the plot, the movie busily bounces around many uproarious moments shining with sharp wit and good comic timing, and I could not help laughing along with the audiences around me as observing some of the funniest scenes in the film.
Melissa McCarthy, who collaborates with the director/writer Paul Peig again after their considerable successes in “Bridesmaids” (2011) and “The Heat” (2013), plays Susan Cooper, a timid and chubby CIA analyst who has been assisting Agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law, who looks as classy as James Bond in his sly performance) for many years. As shown during the opening sequence, she takes care of everything for him including his escape route during their latest mission or a small domestic matter involved with his gardener, but her dedication and efforts have been not appreciated much by Fine or others. Along with her best friend/co-worker Nancy (Miranda Hart) and their fellow desk-bound workers, she is stuck in a basement office which is in the serious need of the extra budget for pest control, and it looks like this is where she will spend the rest of her CIA career.
But then Fine is unexpectedly killed in the next mission. While mourning for the loss of one of their best agents, Susan and others in CIA have a big serious problem to deal with. Fine was tracking a stolen nuclear bomb before his death, and they must find the bomb before it falls into the wrong hands. The problem is that the information of every top field agent of CIA has been recently leaked to the outside, so they need someone else for this urgent mission.
When Susan volunteers even though she has only handled missions through her monitoring computer, Agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham), a bullheaded guy eager to get the revenge of his close colleague in spite of his current exposed status, instantly scoffs at that, but Deputy Director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) seriously considers Susan’s volunteering on second thoughts. After all, Susan is smart enough to be an analyst, and she actually showed considerable potentials during her training period in the past, though what impresses Crocker is not exactly Susan’s proudest moment during that time.
After accepting what will be her own first mission, Susan is soon dispatched to Europe. Her mission is spying on De Luca (Bobby Cannavale), a well-known international broker who is going to intermediate the deal with Raina Boyanov (Rose Byrne) and whoever bids the highest price for the atomic bomb currently in Raina’s possession. The mission looks pretty tame at first, but it turns out there is more danger than she expected, and then there is also another complication because of Ford, who has gone into rogue mode to take matters into his own hands.
Now this is indeed a classic case of ‘fish-out-of-water’ setting which has been one of the time-honored tools among comedies, and I must also point out that “Spy” is not exactly fresh considering other recent similar movies like “Get Smart” (2008), but Peig’s zany screenplay does not merely dwell on its familiar premise. The screenplay diligently throws many clever and hilarious gags as cheerfully making a fun of many spy movie conventions such as that typical introduction scene of spy gadgets, and it also makes big, sharp laughs out of how Susan is usually overlooked and underestimated by others just because of the way she looks. I enjoyed the main title song sequence which is apparently a tongue-in-cheek homage to James Bond movies, and I and other audiences were tickled a lot by the scene where Susan gets her false passport and the gadgets specifically prepared for her, which is one of the most hilarious moments in the film. There are also a few gross moments, but I can assure you that, like that infamous sequence in “Bridesmaids”, they are funny enough while never going too far, and I actually found myself reflecting at one point on how a certain human organ gets relaxed not long after death (that’s biology, you know).
Above all, the movie gives us the heroine we can easily identify with, and Melissa McCarthy, who has been the force of nature since her breakout Oscar-nominated turn in “Bridesmaids”, did a splendid job in another firecracker comedy performance to watch and enjoy. As going through more dangers and adventures, Susan is surprised to see herself becoming more daring and resourceful than she has ever imagined, but we already saw the feisty fiber inside her through McCarthy, and we cheer more for Susan as she goes forward for getting her job done no matter what happens to her.
McCarthy also looks convincing during her action scenes, and Peig is a skillful director who knows how to make good action scenes as deftly modulating them between tension and humor. This reminds me of why the action scenes in “Kingsman: the Secret Service” (2014), another spy action film attempting to be a joke on spy movies, did not engage me enough; they were just intense and violent, and they were not as funny or exciting as intended because they had nothing new besides that. While the action scenes in “Spy” is often quite intense with lots of bullets and explosions, the movie balances well itself between violence and laugh even at its most intense points such as a silly variation on the airplane scene in “Goldfigher” (1964), and one physical fight scene shows us that McCarthy can be as resilient as, say, Charlize Theron in “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) while still making us laugh hard.
The supporting actors surrounding McCarthy have each own juicy fun in their respective roles. While Jude Law keeps his face straight and serious with nice comic effects, Jason Statham relentlessly pushes his tough guy persona way over the top, and you cannot help but amused by not only Statham’s unexpected comic side but also how his character brags more and more about his increasingly preposterous field experiences guaranteed to make your eyes roll in incredulity.
On the opposite, Bobby Cannavale suitably looks oily for his nefarious character, and Rose Byrne virtually chews her scenes with gusto as a haughty girl who behaves like a spoiled, murderous high school queen bee. The accidental relationship development between her character and McCarthy’s later in the story is far more engaging than whatever was shown from the boys in “The Interview” (2014), and their edgy but somehow sweet relationship dynamics prove that ladies can often do better than boys in case of comedy. Allison Janney, who is always a welcome presence, is acerbic as usual as Susan’s no-nonsense boss, Peter Serafinowicz is effectively ludicrous as an Italian agent who may be Italy’s answer to Pepé Le Pew, and Miranda Hart brings down the house every time as Susan’s mousy co-worker who also has to rise to the occasion like her friend. (One of her best moments is involved with the nice cameo appearance by a certain well-known rapper, by the way).
“Spy” is a bit longer than necessary in its running time, and it eventually loses some of its loony comic momentum to some degrees as the story approaches to the obligatory climax action sequence during the last 30 minutes. At least, that weakness does not seriously hurt its entertaining aspects, and the movie is constantly enjoyable thanks to its witty screenplay fueled by the strong female personality at its center. I come to admire more of McCarthy’s immense talent, and she is simply terrific here as her talent is fully utilized – and I guess we will see more of her during many years to come.