“One of the guys. One of the spies.”
Directed by Paul Feig
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Miranda Hart and Allison Janney
Susan Cooper (McCarthy) is a brilliant CIA analyst acting as handler and dogsbody for suave agent Bradley Fine (Law), until a mission goes wrong and he is shot dead by Rayna Boyanov (Byrne), a criminal in possession of a compact, virtually undetectable nuke. With the Agency’s top operatives – including angry British ex-patriot Rick Ford (Statham) – apparently exposed, Cooper is sent into the field by Deputy Director Crocker (Janney) to track Rayna’s middleman de Luca (Bobby Cannavale) and locate both Rayna and the bomb.
Under a series of unappealing aliases and guided by her friend and fellow analyst Nancy (Hart), Cooper travels to Paris, Rome and Budapest in pursuit of her mission, finally going full rogue agent in pursuit of justice for her dead partner. At every step, she is hampered by Ford’s insistence on involving himself in the mission, and the revelation of numerous double agents, including the not-as-dead-as-advertised Fine.
What’s wrong with it?
The film spends a lot of time setting up meek Susan in preparation for its midpoint transformation; probably too long.
There is a subplot with top agent Karen Walker (Morena Baccarin) being a double agent, which significantly advances pretty much no plot points.
The film features a fair scattering of crude humour, which basically serves only to bog proceedings down without adding any significant laughs. Most egregiously, Peter Serafinowicz appears as inappropriately over-amorous and probably-fake-Italian agent Aldo, whose sole role appears to be to attempt to grope Cooper in any scene they share.
What’s right with it?
The film has a good cast, and I straight up can not hate any film in which Allison Janney threatens to rip Jason Statham’s fucking heart out of his chest.
When it’s not going for the easy laugh, the film subtly subverts spy movie tropes. Rayna acts like a slickly classy villainness, but is actually just a horrible, smug bully, while unstoppable hardman Ford is blinded by his self love to his own failings. Both characters are absolutely hilarious, and more so because McCarthy plays off them so well.
While the meek and downtrodden Susan gets old, when she switches up to playing a foul-mouthed, take-no-bullshit bodyguard McCarthy comes into her own as a stone cold, genuine badass.
How bad is it really?
Spy is basically too damn long, and in particular the first half of the movie (in which Cooper is still conducting herself as an awkward, mild-mannered desk worker) drags. In fairness, I was watching an extended version and the theatrical might be punchier, but the difference is about ten minutes. If you could take out the extraneous material and the crudest 70% of the humour, what remained would be a tight, uproariously funny spy comedy.
Best bit (if such there is)?
The scenes where Cooper finally starts to come back at the grotesque Rayna are glorious, but far and away the greatest moments in the film involve Rick Ford, in particular his wild boasting and Cooper’s increasingly skeptical and wearied responses.
What’s up with…?
- Curtis ‘Fifty Cent’ Jackson? How do they even sell that cameo to him? “A movie in which I get to be pounced on and bossed around by a six-foot, posh white English woman? Sign me the fuck up?”
- Fine’s accent? Seriously, if Ford isn’t American by birth, why does Fine need to be? Alternatively, I hear America is producing some pretty decent actors these days. It’s especially weird with the Australian Byrne doing her best cut-glass RP.
- Failure to care about basic differences in the British and American education systems? You don’t ‘major’ in international law at Oxford; you read it.
Production values – Things explode well enough, and the fight choreography is tight, but the blood splatter is just a little too obviously CG. 8
Dialogue and performances – The dialogue has too much crude humour, but the performances are all excellent. I was favourably impressed by McCarthy, and the only blip is Law’s accent. 7
Plot and execution – The plot is pretty basic cross and double cross spy shenanigans with added humour. The basics are all in place, but the film gets saggy in the middle and could have stood a bit of trimming. 7
Randomness – Why are so many of the CIA’s finest British? Why in that case is Jude Law not? What the fuck gives with Aldo? 8
Waste of potential – There is a tighter, more consistent movie in here; you can actually see it amidst the slower moments. 7