The Hippo


May 29, 2020









Spy (R)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

A usually desk-bound CIA agent finds herself in the field during a search for a missing nuclear weapon in Spy, a solid romp starring Melissa McCarthy and written and directed by Paul Feig.

Feig directed McCarthy in Bridesmaids and The Heat, her two best comedy roles, and he clearly gets her — gets her strengths and knows how to create characters that play to them. Anything this pair puts out — to include traffic safety PSAs or OSHA training videos — I will happily buy a ticket for.
Susan Cooper (McCarthy) is a smart and capable CIA agent who has spent most of her years as the voice in the ear of field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law). While the handsome tuxedo-clad agent James Bonds around international villain Tihomir Boyanov’s (Raad Rawi) mansion, Susan sits in the Agency basement and uses her spy tech and her know-how to help him defeat an onslaught of henchmen and eventually get away. Unfortunately, all of her prep can’t keep the agent from making a mistake — though she left some allergy medication in his tux pocket, Bradley didn’t take it and accidentally sneezed during a confrontation with Tihomir, the only person who knows where a suitcase-sized nuke is being kept. The sneeze caused him to pull the trigger on the gun he was holding on the man, meaning that now their only source of information is dead.
Or maybe not. Though the criminal was not the trusting type, he did trust his daughter, Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne). Bradley heads to her estate in search of information but, despite Susan’s warnings that something about the breaking-and-entering seemed not-right, Bradley gets caught and made by Rayna. Even worse: before she sends Bradley to that big martini bar in the sky, she informs whoever might be watching that she knows the identities of all the other top-flight CIA field agents. 
Still desperate to find and recover the nuke but unable to use its field-trained agents, the CIA turns to Susan, who knows plenty about the Boyanovs and, due to her years in the basement, is an unknown face who will be able to blend in. Though nervous to head into the field for the first time, Susan — who as her supervisor Elaine (Allison Janney) points out is actually highly qualified, even if she’s spent many years playing second fiddle to Bradley — is excited to participate in the glamour of being on a mission in Paris. At least, it should be glamorous — in reality, Susan is given dowdy cover stories (“someone’s homophobic aunt” is how she describes the look of one of her cover identities) and sent to stay in a hotel she accurately describes as “murdery.” To make matters worse, she discovers that loose-cannon agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) has followed her to Paris and is, against orders, attempting to find Rayna. Because Rick is a known commodity, this means that Susan is often forced to put as much effort into saving Rick as she is into the mission of finding the nuke.
Spy really gets humming when Susan decides that the original “watch and report” mission isn’t working and decides to engage the bad guys directly. She befriends Rayna, eventually convincing her that she is a security guard hired by Rayna’s late father. In these scenes, she drops even the pretense of mousiness and becomes the tough-talking, no-nonsense woman that we suspect Susan has always been under her meek exterior. With the help of fellow basement-worker Nancy (Miranda Hart — Call the Midwife’s Chummy), Susan hits her stride, full of deserved confidence in her abilities to take down an international criminal organization.
McCarthy and Byrne — co-stars in Bridesmaids but not as characters who had much interaction — have a great chemistry here. “Respectfully antagonistic” would be how I’d describe the two characters’ feelings for each other. Though the movie isn’t really a buddy comedy, their scenes together have the energy and the sparkle of a good buddy relationship. 
As McCarthy’s character becomes more of a take-charge gal, her relationship with Statham’s character becomes more fun as well. A tough guy in the mold of all Statham characters, he’s initially dismissive of McCarthy’s character and consistently a bit of a moron. The more they work together, the more comfortable McCarthy’s character becomes at pointing out how much more his moronicness is endangering the mission than her inexperience.
The McCarthy of this part of the movie, the last 70 or so percent, reminded me a lot of the McCarthy in The Heat, a movie that I liked initially and that I like even more after a couple of repeat viewings. In this movie, as in that movie, McCarthy is able to create a character who is both a part of the absurdity and smarter than it. She commits to the comedy — commits even when glamour is sacrificed for funny — but she is still able to show us the humanity in Susan, to keep the character real even at her most outrageous. I was trying to think of who to compare McCarthy to in this way and, perhaps because I saw that upcoming Ghostbusters movie listed on her IMDB credits, I found myself thinking of Bill Murray. In the right movie, McCarthy brings that level of goofiness, smarts and what can only be called sheer comedy ability to her role. 
Spy, thankfully, is just such a movie. B+
Rated R for language throughout, violence and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity. Written and directed by Paul Feig, Spy is two hours long and distributed by 20th Century Fox.  

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