Maxwell Smart got a high-tech shoe-phone. Austin Powers got the Shaguar. CIA analyst Susan Cooper? She gets second-tier gadgetry camouflaged in a bottle of stool softener. So, yeah, when it comes to equal rights, espionage organizations apparently didn’t get the memo.
Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) takes the indignities and low expectations in stride to win the day in the new comedy “Spy.” It’s the third collaboration between the bankable comedienne and director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids,” “The Heat”).
As the desk-support counterpart to field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law), Cooper remotely guides him through dangerous missions. But when Fine is apparently killed by a femme fatale named Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) who’s out to eliminate every known operative, Cooper goes undercover to locate Boyanov and her portable nuclear bomb around which all evil orbits.
From there it’s formulaic though unpredictable and consistently engaging because McCarthy brings much more to a script than mere silliness. There is a pathos to what she does.
For my money, this underappreciated actress is capable of great range, demonstrated, for instance, in last year’s “St. Vincent,” which I hoped would open new opportunities for the Illinois native. But she seems comfortable in comedy, as do her fans, and doesn’t disappoint here. (BTW, it would have been interesting if McCarthy were cast as the supervillain but Feig would not return my calls.) She carries “Spy” as a dignified, competent agent playing against foils Byrne and chauvinistic agent Jason Statham, globetrotting from Paris to Rome to Budapest in the spirit of classic Bond.
The laughs themselves, from beginning to end, are well-rounded with some coming from parody of the genre and others through cleverly flipping the script on stereotypes (like Cooper’s cat-lady cover). Thankfully, the film avoids stooping to donut jokes.
It doesn’t have to. McCarthy is hysterical and both her timing and delivery are impeccable; most of the humor here comes from her barbed dialog though this is by no means a one-woman show. Feig assembled a capable cast to complement her. Law, as her crush, is the iconic British Agent. Statham is stuck in the 1960s acting like a complete … let me clean this up … jerk. But the standouts are lesser-known Peter Serafinowicz as her Italian contact and admirer Aldo, and Miranda Hart as best friend and fellow underutilized analyst Nancy.
“Spy” is the rare well-executed comedy.
Med City Movie Guy’s rating: 4 Honks
Nobody does it better: the best spy spoofs
So the secret agent goes into the bar and says, “Bonded. James Bonded.” Well, thankfully not in any of these, anyway…
“Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” (1997) It was all groovy and happening at the Electric Psychedelic Pussycat Swingers Club where Mike Myers reinvented the genre in this, the first and best of three films in which he played dual roles as the hero Austin “Danger” Powers and his nemesis Dr. Evil. This sort of thing was our bag, baby!
“OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies” (2006) and “OSS 117: Lost in Rio” (2009) Crisp French comedies from Director Michel Hazanavicius and debonair leading man Jean Dujardin (the pair later teamed for 2011’s award-winning “The Artist”). Dujardin is brilliant as the politically incorrect bumbling agent.
“The In-Laws” (2003) I know, I know, it’s a remake. But it also starred two of my comic favorites: Michael Douglas (spy) and Albert Brooks (foot doctor and future in-law). Besides, any plot in which a father hires KC & the Sunshine Band for a wedding is the way I like it, ah-huh, ah-huh.
“Get Smart” (2008) Would you believe they brought the classic 1960s comedy to the big screen? Unfortunately, Steve Carell, as Maxwell Smart, “missed it by that much.” No worries, this one’s still a treat. Great casting of Anne Hathaway as Agent 99 and Alan Arkin as The Chief. I wanted to end with a “cone of silence” joke but I am up against a deadline so feel free to supply your own.