Following the funny business they made in “The Heat” and “Bridesmaids,” Melissa McCarthy and writer-director Paul Feig are at it again.
McCarthy, having respectively co-starred and a played supporting role in those films, takes the lead and runs with it in “Spy.” Alongside the several funny supporting performances in the movie, McCarthy unquestionably emerges as the star. Playing the funniest secret agent since Austin Powers, she confidently carries the verbal and physical humor in this delightfully entertaining spy spoof.
McCarthy is Susan Cooper, an analyst working in a high-tech-equipped CIA basement that, curiously, has a few pest problems. Toiling away in obscurity, Cooper helps her dashing partner in the field, Bradley Fine, look even more dashing.
Jude Law co-stars as Fine, a super spy who does all the dangerous, glamorous things you’d expect a secret agent made in James Bond’s image to be doing.
“I couldn’t do what I do without you in my earpiece,” Fine tells Cooper over dinner at a high-class restaurant in Washington, D.C.
In addition to the professional relationship Cooper and Fine share, she has a secret crush on the handsome spy. He could never imagine anything between them, but the flame in Cooper’s heart keeps burning.
Tragically for Cooper, Fine is killed in the line of duty when a mission goes wrong. The agency suffers the loss of another agent when Jason Statham’s over-the-top Rick Ford goes rogue.
Cooper’s loyalty to Fine compels her to volunteer for field duty. She wants to find his killer. The suddenly short-staffed CIA sends Cooper into the field. She gets her orders from her frank, to the point of hurtful, boss.
In another example of the movie’s sharp comic casting, the deadpan Allison Janney co-stars as Cooper’s all-business superior, Elaine Crocker. She sends Cooper to Paris with orders to only track and report. “One mistake, and we’ve got a nuclear bomb in the hands of terrorists,” Crocker warns the fledging field agent.
But the excitement of field work seduces Cooper. As she enjoys a few successful encounters with villains, her confidence grows. “Man, I really think I can do this!” she says.
McCarthy keeps piling up comic points throughout “Spy.” After her mousy character is freed from the CIA basement, McCarthy shares madcap moments with Statham, the action star whose “Spy” character spoofs the actor’s typically tough and ruthless action roles.
Along with the physical comedy that shows up often in “Spy,” there’s wordplay, too. McCarthy, Statham and the movie’s principal villain, Rose Byrne’s wonderfully haughty Bulgarian arms dealer Rayna Boyanov, share the verbal combat.
Also central to the comic adventures in “Spy,” British actress Miranda Hart co-stars as the nerdy Nancy B. Artingstall, Cooper’s best friend and colleague. Because neither Cooper nor Artingstall are lookers in the conventional sense, these resourceful ladies get no respect in the glamorous milieu that “Spy” satirizes.
“Spy” follows the long-established blueprint for the secret agent genre. There’s a Bond-like title sequence, international threats to world security and globe-circling action. The movie’s action, though, includes nicely staged slapstick that recalls the late Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau.
The comic partnership McCarthy and writer-director Feig have may become an extended film alliance that parallels Sellers’ five-film run with the late writer-director Blake Edwards (four “Pink Panther” movies and the standalone “The Party”). “Spy” feels like the start of something, a character and concept that has many more laughs to deliver.