Rated R for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity
Melissa McCarthy, you are officially forgiven for Identity Thief and Tammy, and then some. Spy is a ridiculously funny, witty, and smart movie that's far better than its generic title would suggest, confirming writer/director Paul Feig (maker of Bridesmaids and The Heat) as one of the best comedy filmmakers working today and McCarthy as having a lot more range than just boorish fat ladies. When you also have a great supporting cast and a surprisingly involving story for a film like this, you get one of the best comedies of the year.
McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst who's chronically bored with her job, having expected the life of a James Bond-esque superspy but instead serving as support for that man, elite agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law), who she has an unrequited crush on. However, one day, Fine is killed in the field by Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), the sultry daughter of a recently deceased arms dealer who is in possession of a suitcase nuke -- and what's more, Rayna makes it clear that she knows the identity of all the CIA's field agents. With all of their operatives potentially compromised, the CIA turns to Susan, who has the intel on Rayna and had proven herself surprisingly adept in training, only being held back by her self-esteem issues and her decidedly unglamorous image. Armed with an array of humiliating secret identities and gadgets, and much to the consternation of the hardass fellow agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham), Susan ventures to Europe to follow and observe Rayna and her contact De Luca (Bobby Cannavale), but soon finds herself infiltrating her inner circle.
Above all, this film is a showcase for Melissa McCarthy to prove herself as a genuine comic talent. Forget all the stereotypes of McCarthy's dumber past flicks. Here, there's nary a fat joke or pratfall in sight -- instead, most of the humor is from Susan's reactions to the people around her and how they patronize her. To be honest, it's almost a metaphor for McCarthy's own career up to this point -- she could be one of the biggest comedy stars of this generation, if someone just gave her a role that didn't have her playing a one-note "fatty". And fortunately, Paul Feig is that someone. His stock in trade is a girl-power take on raunchy, "blue" humor, which McCarthy has long proven herself to be very good at, and together, they make comic gold. McCarthy vomits the first time she kills a man, not because she's a slob but because it turns out she can't stomach the sight of blood. She grows exasperated at the disguises and "feminine" gadgets she's issued. She gets into verbal sparring matches (and sometimes physical ones) with Rose Byrne, who's easily a match for her in comic chops, playing Rayna as a high-school mean girl grown up into a Bond movie femme fatale. She looks at Jason Statham's hyper-macho shtick -- a hilariously self-aware parody of his image as an action hero, warped here into a buffoon with more guts than brains -- and wonders how he hasn't gotten himself killed yet, especially with his incompetence over the course of the film. She reacts to her womanizing contact Aldo exactly how you'd expect most women to react to an onslaught of sexual harassment. Susan Cooper is probably the most well-rounded and dignified character McCarthy's ever played, making the situations she finds herself in that much funnier.
On top of that, Feig also shows that he knows his way around an action scene. Even the least of them is competently staged and easily held my interest, and the highlight, a fight between McCarthy and one of De Luca's henchwomen in a restaurant kitchen, is easily one of the best I've seen all year, evoking old-school Jackie Chan movies with how McCarthy takes her physical comedy talents and applies them to action. Seriously, it was like this movie suddenly stopped and turned into The Raid: Redemption. The story here is a fairly boilerplate spy thriller, cribbing from James Bond and Jason Bourne in roughly equal measure, and if you've seen those sorts of movies you won't have too much of a problem following the assorted double-crosses and triple agents, though that still didn't stop some of the late-game twists from getting a bit convoluted. Still, while it's a noticeable problem, it's hardly one that impacted my enjoyment too much. After this, I'm noticeably less concerned about Feig's upcoming Ghostbusters reboot than I was before.
Score: 4 out of 5
I came very close to giving this a 5, but even though it didn't quite go over-the-top into greatness, it still made for an amazing, hilarious, and smart comedy thanks to the talents of all involved. Go see it.