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McCarthy and friends shine in “Spy.” (movie review)

By Jeff Boudreaux

Spy

The laughs come fast and furious in 20th Century Fox’s action-comedy “Spy,” reuniting star Melissa McCarthy with director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat). McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a CIA agent who’s been working for the intelligence organization for almost a decade, yet she’s never been “in the field.” That’s because she so comfortably has found her niche as the “earpiece” for super-suave secret agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law), watching every nook and cranny that he so happens upon. When Fine kills the head of an international criminal organization, he invokes the wrath of the man’s daughter Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), a foreign agent who promptly eliminates him.

As the death of Fine leaves a gaping hole in the CIA’s entire operation, Cooper volunteers to pick up where her mentor left off, since no one would know who she is amongst the criminal/terroristic underworld. Her request is approved by the wise-cracking and aptly named Director Cracker (Allison Janney), much to the chagrin of her macho fellow agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham in a hilarious sendup of his “badass” screen persona). Upon arriving in Bulgaria, Cooper is disguised as one pathetic looking tourist after another, with orders to “track and report,” but as we all know Agent Cooper will soon be waist-deep in the world of espionage, dealing with Agent Ford (who’s gone rogue) while cozying up to Rayna as an avenue of making contact with arms dealer Sergio De Luca (Bobby Cannavale).

Melissa McCarthy has undoubtedly found her best starring vehicle yet, in a comedy that has more than enough laughs for her fans and non-fans alike thanks to the excellent supporting work by Law, Statham and Byrne. And surprisingly for the first half of the film, McCarthy shows the most onscreen restraint since her performance in last year’s “St. Vincent.” Diehard fans need not worry however, as the film’s second half has Agent Cooper basically morphing into her typical “Tammy-esque” characterization that many people have grown to love (and some of us to hate.) With that being said, her shift in character doesn’t manage to detract much from the movie as she is finally someone that we can root for, instead of the woman in “Identity Thief” who stole Jason Bateman’s livelihood or the goofy armed robber with a paper bag over her head in “Tammy.” I never thought that I would say it, but being a red-blooded, all-American spy suits her extremely well!

I have to say that I really enjoyed the dialogue-driven humor throughout this film, especially in the first half before it starts to veer into heavy slapstick. Kudos are certainly in order for the star as she, believe it or not, engages in some inspiringly choreographed fight sequences, even if one of them involves her dueling a knife-wielding assassin, armed with only a frying pan and a loaf of French bread! There’s also some excellent sight gags here involving a vermin infestation in CIA headquarters and some rather “personal” photos retrieved from the camera of an enemy combatant. Miss McCarthy shows her genuine comedic talent in two separate dining scenes that are simply a hoot.

Byrne’s characterization of the foreign agent Rayna provides this talented actress with one of her most enjoyable performance in years. Her banter with McCarthy’s Agent Cooper (pretending to be her bodyguard at one point) provides a great deal of the laughs here. Likewise, action-icon Jason Statham plays the perfect caricature of his countless onscreen personas, as he and McCarthy make quite the comedic team. I’m not sure what else can be said about Jude Law besides the fact that he’s simply one of the coolest cats in Hollywood, and feels right at home as Agent Fine (or what James Bond would be like in a comedy). In fact the only drawback of this terrific cast is the usually likeable Bobby Cannavale, who is sorely miscast here as the main villain. Maybe we’re just too accustomed to him playing the loveable, average Joe, but regardless, his talents are wasted here. The film’s cast is rounded out by a couple of very-talented British comedians; Miranda Hart as Susan’s friend and fellow “basement” agent Nancy, and the riotous Peter Serafinowicz as Aldo, the CIA’s sex-crazed foreign correspondent.

As Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig are set to reunite in next summer’s all-girl reboot of “Ghostbusters,” I think this may be the turning point in the star’s career. “Spy” is a winner on all fronts and will undoubtedly bring Ms. McCarthy a legion of new fans that may be experiencing the “Mike & Molly” star for the first time, but were put off by previous, unflattering roles. Hopefully she follows suit by portraying heroines that will embellish her talents instead of those previously-mentioned choices that did nothing but demean her as an actress and comedian.

*** (three out of four stars)

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