They brought us such groundbreaking hit comedies as "Bridesmaids" and "The Heat," and now writer/director Paul Feig and leading lady Melissa McCarthy are gunning for the espionage genre with "Spy." And it's totally awesome, plain and simple.
This whip-smart action comedy begins with the kind of secret agent we have come to expect from the movies: As Bradley Fine, Jude Law is cool under pressure and the picture of suave super-spy. He can knock down a batch of bad guys without breaking a sweat or creasing his cuffs. But he'd be nothing were it not for the woman in his ear, ace analyst Susan Cooper( McCarthy). Back at CIA headquarters, she scours intelligence and warns Fine of any approaching danger. But when he's felled by a Bulgarian crime lord (Rose Byrne) with inside information and a nuclear bomb to sell, it's time for Cooper to step out from behind her monitor and enter the field.
Judging by the promos or posters, you might think this premise is an excuse for slapstick silliness, some sort of female-fronted "Naked Gun." However, Cooper is no fool. She may be a fish out of water in the field, but she's experienced in strategy, tradecraft and fighting. Nonetheless, she's always been sold short by her peers, her boss and her family. (She recounts her mother leaving notes in her lunchbox that read, "Give up on your dreams, Susan!") This conflict makes for great comedy, but also a character we relate to and root for.
It'd have been unrealistic in our body-shaming society to cast an actress like McCarthy, and then pretend that Cooper's fellow agents wouldn't judge her. But Feig's script not only makes Cooper a hero who represents the heavier among us, but also criticizes how Hollywood (and, by extension, its audience) unfairly judges and maligns. While her fellow spies get to don tailored suits and cool aliases, Cooper is repeatedly put in dowdy costumes and given sadsack backstories. Through McCarthy's hilarious chagrin and Cooper's kick-ass action sequences, "Spy" not only redefines Cooper's story, but also wraps a progressive message about beauty and self-acceptance in sidesplitting humor.
It's a rare joy to get a comedy that's no only so funny, but also so sharp. Maybe we shouldn't expect anything less from Feig and McCarthy.
Additionally, every element of this cast is pure perfection. Zipping from poignant moments to furious fight scenes to breathlessly hysterical gags, McCarthy offers her greatest performance to date. Despite a dodgy American accent, Law is sensational and silly as "Spy's" would-be Bond, thanks to scads of oafish confidence. Following fantastic turns in "Bridesmaids" and "Neighbors," Byrne is bitingly funny as the ultimate mean girl, spitting barbs at McCarthy like "that's the Bulgarian clown in you," and "you must tell me where you got that abortion of a dress!" (More satire points for female-on-female attacks!)
Bobby Cannavale pops in for a small but fun part as a shady arms dealer, and with killer comedic timing and a wacky charm, British TV star Miranda Hart ("Call the Midwife") is sure to win fans Stateside as Cooper's best friend and biggest supporter Nancy B. Artingstall. But as brilliant as this ensemble is, the real scene-stealer is Jason Statham as the impossibly invincible agent, Rick Ford.
Furious over Cooper's audacity to think she can do more than work behind the scenes, Ford is a bully and recurring thorn in her side who resurfaces just to undermine, and to spew unbelievable boasts like, "I once drove a car off a freeway, on top of a train, while I was on fire. Not the car. I was on fire." Sure, we've seen Statham do comedy before (lest we never forget "Snatch" and "Crank"), but here he refuses to wink at the jokes. And it just makes "Spy" all the richer. By playing it straight (think "Transporter" Statham), he's a phenomenal foil to McCarthy's earnest energy. During one of several scenes where he doles out an onslaught of insults to Cooper -- with her bantering right back with defiant wit -- I scribbled in my notes, "I want a sequel with these two. Now."
That was only halfway through "Spy." It's just that good.
Supremely funny, wickedly smart -- and did I mention the action sequences are not just convincing but exhilarating? Honestly, I worried that the bonkers glory of "Mad Max: Fury Road" had ruined me for all other summer movies. But by "Spy's" animated opening credits (a cheeky allusion to Bond), I was bouncing in my seat with anticipation. Still, "Spy" exceeded even my highest hopes. We knew Feig and McCarthy could do comedy, but "Spy" is no parody, being diligent in making its action as strong as its jokes. So in the end, we get a superb summer movie, as well as the best comedy of the year.
"Spy" opens Friday nationwide.