This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, May 2015
There is much to like about this pseudo-feminist reworking of the type of spy movie normally peopled by Bournes, Bonds and Bryan Millses. For starters, Spy does a nice job of parodying many of the tropes – the CIA control room with homemade cake and rodent issues; the hotshot renegade whose hyperbolic work stories put all others’ to shame; an embarrassment of character-appropriate gadgets you’d never be given by MI5’s Q.
Most of all, Spy owes its enjoyable charm to its dazzling leading lady, the plucky comic superstar Melissa McCarthy who can send herself up as a dowdy cat lady one day, then rock a black silk ballgown, high heels and Joe Pesci’s mouth the next.
Dowdy, single Susan Cooper aced her CIA training, but has spent the last decade playing earpiece puppeteer to Jude Law’s smug super agent, Bradley Fine. When needs must and Cooper is promoted from agent in the ear to agent in the field, the mission takes her all over Europe in pursuit of the evil Raina Boyanov (McCarthy’s Bridesmaids co-star, Rose Byrne).
Stylistically very Bond (although Law is no Daniel Craig), the madcap plot boasts a terrific kitchen fight scene reminiscent of The Raid 2 while the script seems set on “owning” the use of female genitalia as swearwords amongst its gratuitous profanity. Support from Allison Janney and British comedienne Miranda Hart (playing Miranda but nonetheless endearing) bolsters the heavy female influence, with Jason Statham hilariously relegated to sending up his own hard man status.
Written and directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) Spy is consistently enjoyable, if not quite a laugh a minute, thanks mainly to McCarthy’s great warmth and undeniable comedic talent. With enough silliness and zippy one-liners to prove it’s not taking itself too seriously, the film puts paid to any notion that a woman needs a man to help her amuse the world.