If my wife and Ben Falcone ever read this I don’t want either to get the wrong idea (they could both beat me up pretty badly) but I love Melissa McCarthy. That’s right, LOVE. Not in an inappropriate, restraining-order, they’ll-drag-me-away-to-the-asylum or even marriage-ending fashion, but a pure and innocent devotion that respects her obvious intelligence, appreciates her great comedic gifts and (I will tolerate no arguments or inappropriate comments from pea-brains on this last point) admires her captivating beauty.
That unsurprisingly means I have followed her stand-up, TV and film work with rapt attention for some time now. And while watching the divine Ms. M is one of my life’s great pleasures, I haven’t always been so enthralled with some of the vehicles Hollywood has provided her: “Identity Thief” and “Tammy” are movies where the material ultimately failed to reach the level M&M so richly deserves.
Now comes the 20th Century Fox feature “Spy,” which opens wide today. From films I was raised on James Bond and Harry Palmer with a dose of that tongue-in-cheek Matt Helm thrown in for good measure; from TV I got a taste of spy spoofs where Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 as well as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (the latter duo are being resurrected on film later this summer, incidentally) battled evil while I was still in diapers. So while I’m certainly open to some espionage in my entertainment choices I’m also not prepared to accept any old rubbish.
Apparently neither is director Paul Feig, who was at the helm when McCarthy scored hit appearances in “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat.” If the press kit quote is accurate he loves the spy genre, and McCarthy, no less than I do: “I’m a big fan of spy movies, and I wanted to create a broad action comedy in that genre. The comedy comes from the characters. It’s not a spoof or satire. The danger and action are genuine. We wanted it to have the tone of a spy film, but still be as funny as we could make it.
“I also wanted to create a relatable story in which we could all wonder, ‘If I was recruited as a spy and sent on a mission, how might I react? Melissa is perfect for the role because, despite being extraordinarily talented, she can still play the ‘every person’ and elicit a profound sense of empathy and support.”
The “every person” in this case is Susan Cooper, a deskbound CIA analyst (in a basement full of bats and rats) who makes 007ish Bradley Fine (Jude Law) look better than even his devilishly handsome looks warrant. But when Fine falls and the identity of another agent, the tough-as-nails-he’s-apparently-hammered-into-his-head Rick Ford (Jason Statham) is compromised, Cooper gets the chance for field ops involving a shady arms deal that could literally go nuclear any moment.
Law and Statham have fun with their established film personas. That plus McCarthy’s deft handling of silly and serious moments (including some very bloody action, more than one might expect from a McCarthy vehicle) would make this an enjoyable flick, but (as late-night TV infomercials often say) wait there’s more! Rose Byrne as a smart and snide Bulgarian (Bulgarian? Aussie Rose Byrne? Okay, she is an actor) arms dealer, Bobby Cannavale (Byrne’s real-life love interest in case you weren’t already aware) as a suave but understandably deadly middle-man, Allison Janney as Cooper’s no-nonsense boss, Peter Serafinowicz as a way-too-amorous Italian agent and even rapper 50 Cent as, well, 50 Cent – throw in such not-so-dull locales as Paris, Rome and Budapest and there’s unquestionably wonderful support for the pride of Plainfield, Ill. And last but not least is one of Britain’s best, Miranda Hart (yes, PBS lovers, Chummy from “Call the Midwife,” but anyone that’s seen her “Miranda” BBC-TV show knows just how thoroughly terrific she is), who as Cooper’s colleague Nancy B. Artingstall serves as perfect mate to her fellow cellar-dweller.
Feig – who also gets the writing credit for this outing – shows his own deftness in handling everything from big set pieces to intimate one-on-one encounters, balancing action and comedy as two harmonious sides of the “Spy” coin. Yes, that’s been done before, but it’s not an easy feat to make us laugh even when someone dies quite horribly, which is exactly what Feig and his cohorts accomplish.
Together he and McCarthy along with their fellow castmates and crew have activated an entertaining romp through (to borrow from John le Carré) “the secret world” that should easily succeed in its ticket-selling mission. As an ardent admirer of the great McCarthy, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Spy opens in Nashville and elsewhere today; the film is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America’s Classification and Rating Administration “for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity” and runs one hour and 55 minutes. Check for locations and showtimes on Fandango or MovieTickets.com.