directed by Paul Fieg
(Twentieth Century Fox, 2015)

Behind every great spy is a woman named Susan Cooper, aka Melissa McCarthy, who controls their every move via computer, telling them exactly how to move in the field. CIA analyst and permanent desk jockey Cooper is the voice who guides field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) through every compromising position, tricky situation and death trap that he encounters. Devastated when Fine is seemingly killed in a botched attempt to stop the black market sale of a nuclear weapon, Cooper volunteers to infiltrate the underworld of arms dealers, hopefully preventing a major disaster.

Agent Cooper is supported by sharp-tongued CIA boss Elaine Crocker (Alison Janney), hothead agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) and friend and fellow desk jockey Nancy Artingstall (Miranda Hart). This Paul Fieg film follows the same formula as Bridesmaids and The Heat but crosses genres into the spy camp, and it really is camp.

It's actually the first time in the field for Cooper, who joined the CIA 10 years previously when her marriage went south and she needed some excitement. Though she underwent full field agent training at The Farm, Cooper took a position as an analyst due to an overwhelmingly low level of self-esteem and an unrequited love for Fine, whose shoulder she rode in order to be as near to him. But Cooper is multi-talented: her hidden tenacity, exemplary intelligence and deep knowledge of field work make her a force with which to contend. Her extreme mental acuity allows her to improvise quite well, saving her many times when her inexperience yanks the rug out from underneath the situation, resulting in some of the film's best comedic moments.

Part satirical send-up of Bond films, part Blake Edwards-style zany happenings in the middle of a caper, Spy is completely mad, with a slapstick-filled plot, a lead whose comedic timing is as strong as her charm, and a rollercoaster series of action set pieces that are a real blast to witness. It's not sharp but it's outrageous, with McCarthy not so much reprising a familiar type so much as she plays her part with a greater dignity than previously seen. The skillful use of side characters pushes the limits of each scene to nearly explosive levels. Rose Byrne, as the film's chief villainess, Rayna, is utterly diabolical, sexy and brilliant. Peter Serafinowicz as field agent Aldo steals every scene. Statham's parody of himself is a gut buster. Law is an excellent straight man in his own parody of James Bond-style heroes. Hart steals the show as the earnest back-up and hilarious asset for Agent Cooper during the mission's many, many screw-ups.

A couple of pretty decent twists are thrown in to lend some originality and spice to the somewhat cliche-ridden screenplay. Fieg uses profanity like a scalpel to craft some of the movie's most brilliantly quirky moments. Spy is confident, smart and hilarious, with a cast who has amazing chemistry with one another and a lead who can handle anything lobbed her way. McCarthy delivers with so much heart and style that she, along with the terrific cast, makes this film one of the best ever afternoons at the movies.

review by
Mary Harvey

11 July 2015

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