Melissa McCarthy might be the singular oddest movie star in modern American cinema currently. It’s one thing for a foul mouthed, overweight man to find a niche with audiences. Big fat white guys who are skilled at falling down have been a comedy staple for generations. Granted the dip in talent has left us with Jack Black as the current high water mark currently but it’s nothing new to see someone heavy set fall down for a laugh. That McCarthy, who’s style might be considered a combination of Danny McBride’s colorful language with Chris Farley’s physical comic style, has become someone who can bring in audiences regularly to an R-rated comedy is fairly astounding.
Simple premise. Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is a CIA analyst and is the eyes in the sky for super spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law). When Fine winds up dead at the hands of an arms dealer (Rose Byrne) who’s trafficking in nuclear weaponry, and the CIA field agents wind up having their deep cover identities exposed, Susan is dumped into the field to stop a nuke from getting into the hands of evil doers. She has a rogue CIA agent (Jason Statham) following her, mucking things up in an Inspector Clouseau sort of way, and Cooper has to learn on the job how to save the world from nuclear terror.
The one thing about the film is that it works in its opening act, magnificently at that. Paul Feig does a masterful job at spoofing Bond in the opening act down to little details. This is someone who’s clearly a fan of the Bond series or someone who studied them en masse, at a minimum, and this is a spot on riff of the franchise. The opening is so strong because it works to everyone’s strengths; McCarthy is hilarious in concert with others but on her own can really struggle because she has the same problem as Jack Black does: she’s funny as part of a group, or with someone to play off of, but when she’s the driving force she becomes profoundly hit or miss.
It’s why she’s great in Mike & Molly and was the high point of Bridesmaids … and why she’s been fairly hit or miss outside of those. McCarthy’s shtick works when she has people to play off of that are doing the heavy lifting. It’s why she’s a great choice for the new Ghostbusters franchise reboot. And in many moments Spy works because McCarthy doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting on the comedy side. When she and Statham get to play off one another there’s genuine comedy magic. Statham, playing a clumsy version of his action persona with amazingly filthy dialogue, works so well with McCarthy that one wonders what a buddy comedy with the two of them would be like.
On occasion there’s some brilliance in the two working together, and Statham has a knack for playing it so seriously that the character isn’t trying to be funny, but when McCarthy has to carry the load by herself the film suffers because her shtick isn’t funny on its own. It needs to be a part of something, not alone, and unfortunately the film relies on her for huge swathes that fall flat for all but those with the least discriminating taste in comedy.
Spy remains an interesting film where all the best parts are overwhelmed by all the worst ones.
Writer / Director: Paul Feig Notable Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.