Sunday, June 7, 2015

SPY Is the Best Melissa McCarthy Vehicle To Date

SPY Review:

- I've been a fan of Melissa McCarthy for a long time now. I loved her on Gilmore Girls way back when (yes, I'm a "Gilmore Guy"), and thought she was hilarious in early breakout movie roles in Bridemaids, This Is 40, etc. But I've also been weary of this multifaceted comedic actress being typecast repeatedly as the blue-collar slob who falls over a lot and gets the easy laugh. Not that there's anything wrong with that, per se - but too many movies have forced McCarthy into one-note, one-joke roles that quickly wear thin. But SPY is perhaps McCarthy's best starring movie role to date - she gets to play a multifaceted character who is smart and capable, but still funny and flawed. She also gets to play a part that not-so-subtly takes jabs at the actress' prior film roles, and the Hollywood system that to an extent forced her into them. It speaks to the fact that SPY is a much smarter movie than the marketing perhaps let on. It's also much funnier. It's a testament to McCarthy, to the strong supporting cast, and to director Paul Fieg - a guy who knows how to portray likable underdogs as strong, fully-fleshed-out, subversively funny characters. So don't write off SPY until you've seen it - it's deceptively good.

In SPY, McCarthy plays Susan Cooper - a CIA agent stuck with an unglamorous desk job, providing support and intel to Jude Law's James Bond-like Bradley Fine. But when things go wrong on one of Fine's missions, McCarthy is forced to go into the field to identify the mysterious badguys who took him out. And suddenly, the woman who everyone underestimated and condescended to gets a chance to show that she can handle herself like a boss.

It could have been cheesy and groan-worthy, but SPY handles its premise cleverly and with a keen sense of self-awareness. McCarthy's Cooper is still goofy and self-effacing, but we also get to see a side of her that is at times downright badass and not to be trifled with. A lot of the fun comes from the great dynamic between Susan and Jason Statham's would-be super-agent Rick Ford. Statham is basically playing a parody of the typical Jason Statham character ... and he's absolutely hilarious. We know that Statham has comic chops - witness the Crank movies as a prime example. But he himself has never really been the butt of the joke like he is here, and it's an unexpected turning of the tables. Law is also a standout here, as is Miranda Hart as Susan's more-awkward desk-jockey CIA friend. Hart and McCarthy have a really fun best-friend chemistry going.

The film works on a lot of levels. It's got some really fun action scenes, and functions well in general as a parody and homage to the spy genre. But it's also got an upbeat, positive message about defying stereotypes and breaking out of the cycle of being "typecast" in life. Some of the jokes don't land, and there are elements that feel a bit clunky (Rose Byrne gives her all as the villain, but her character is all over the map). But Feig (who also wrote the film) again proves himself as someone who can take ideas that seem generic on the surface, and really give them an added layer of depth both from a comedic and thematic perspective. SPY is one of the big, pleasant surprises of Summer 2015.

My Grade: B+

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