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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Spy

A goofy espionage comedy that proves you shouldn't underestimate the talents of Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig.
By Tom Clift
May 24, 2015
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Spy

A goofy espionage comedy that proves you shouldn't underestimate the talents of Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig.
By Tom Clift
May 24, 2015
  shares

Melissa McCarthy is now three-for-three in collaborations with Paul Feig. The actor-director team chase down Bridesmaids and The Heat with a goofy espionage comedy that serves as a showreel for their respective talents.

In Feig’s case, that means cementing his reputation as one of Hollywood’s most rock-solid comic-directors, extracting hilarious turns from a more-than-willing cast while demonstrating a surprising amount of confidence with action scenes, which bodes well for his Ghostbusters sequel next year. For McCarthy, it means delivering one of the best performances of her career, nailing both the verbal and physical comedy while steering almost entirely clear of lazy jokes about her gender or her size.

McCarthy stars as analyst Susan Cooper, a desk jockey working in the CIA basement funnelling instructions via an earpiece to operatives around the world. Her primary charge, and the subject of her unrequited affections, is the revoltingly narcissistic Bond-wannabe Agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law). But things suddenly change after Fine is gunned down by a devious arms heiress (Rose Byrne), who has somehow gained access to the identity of every active spy. With their best assets compromised, the agency has no choice but to throw the untested Cooper into the field.

It’s a pretty standard comedic premise, in a similar vein to other recent spy spoofs such as Johnny English and Get Smart — the one major difference being that Cooper is actually fairly good at her new job. Feig, who wrote the film as well as directing, pokes fun at all the typical spy movie cliches, from the megalomaniacal villain all the way down to the gadgets, here disguised as everyday items such as fungal cream and laxatives. For the most part the humour is fairly broad and sweary — this is, after all, the same director who had McCarthy shit in a sink.

Still, as with Feig’s previous films, the material is elevated considerably by the performances. After proving the MVP in both Bridesmaids and Bad Neighbours, Rose Byrne could well consider giving up dramatic roles altogether. Her villainous turn here is a delightful caricature of upper-crust snobbery, and many of the film’s best scenes are the ones that she and McCarthy share. Law is likewise wonderfully hammy as Fine, while Jason Statham sends up his typical screen persona as a 'rogue' CIA agent a little too convinced of his own brilliance.

But it’s McCarthy who’s the real hero here, throwing herself into every scene with absolute commitment. Together, she and Feig not only deliver big laughs but also manage to skewer our expectations of what someone who looks like her is capable of. Yes, there are plenty of jokes at Cooper’s expense, but more often than not they’re the result of people underestimating her. As it turns out, that’s a pretty big mistake.

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