Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Spy / ***½ (R)

Susan Cooper: Melissa McCarthy
Rayna Boyanov: Rose Byrne
Rick Ford: Jason Statham
Nancy B. Artingstall: Miranda Hart
Sergio De Luca: Bobby Cannavale
Aldo: Peter Serafinowicz
Karen Walker: Morena Baccarin
Elaine Crocker: Allison Janney
Bradley Fine: Jude Law

20th Century Fox presents a film written and directed by Paul Feig. Running time: 120 min. Rated R (for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content include brief graphic nudity).

Daniel Craig will have one more movie as James Bond left on his contract after the new Bond film “Spectre” is released this fall. After Bond 25, should Craig or the Bond producers decide to go in different directions, it will be time once again to consider a new Bond. Jude Law might very well be in the running, as I believe he was when Craig was cast in the role. He’s handsome, charming, has a dreamy smile, and yet he can be deftly serious and people are willing to let it slide when he uses a woman or two to get what he wants. These are all traits of his character, Bradley Fine, in the new movie “Spy”. The catch is that although Fine is a successful spy for the CIA, he is not the spy of which the title refers.

No, comedic character actress Melissa McCarthy plays the spy of the film’s title. You see the movie is a send up of a sort of spy flicks like the James Bond series. Even more so the movie is an overt criticism of the ideology and clichés of the spy genre and of Hollywood in general. McCarthy is plump and short and funny and everything that a serious action movie heroine is not. And yet, considering all of that, I would hesitate to call “Spy” a spoof of the super spy genre. The opening credit sequence and song could very well pass for an actual James Bond credit sequence. Director Paul Feig and McCarthy approach the movie with a sincerity that would make it an almost plausible spy action/comedy thriller if it weren’t so openly criticizing its own inspirations.

Immediately after meeting Fine in the pre-credits sequence, we met the voice in his earpiece who is mostly responsible for keeping him alive and able to perform the remarkable action feats of which he’s capable. This is Agent Susan Cooper, played with all the charm and quirky natural comic goofiness McCarthy has ever brought to any of her roles. She’s in top form here and it obvious from the moment we see her. She’s also a serious agent. She keeps one step ahead of the villains with infrared cameras trained on Fine at all times, she calls on drone airstrikes to get Fine out of impossible to escape situations and has Fine’s back better than just about any spy presented in cinema. When Fine takes her out on a date to thank her for all she does for him after their most recent mission, we discover she hasn’t learned every social trick up Fine’s sleeve. We, of course, also learn of her crush on Fine and his obliviousness to it.

After Fine is compromised on a mission—at no fault of Cooper’s—it becomes apparent that the identities of the CIA’s current installment of field agents have fallen into the hands of a powerful arms dealer, Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne). They learn she plans to sell them as part of an arms deal and someone must find out the details, but who? What makes this treatment different than say “Get Smart”, where you have an incompetent field agent subbing for all the good agents, is that Cooper isn’t really a half bad field agent. She graduated at the top of her class, but kind of always played second fiddle to Fine because they came up through the ranks together, made a pretty good team and he was the one who fit everybody else’s idea of how a field agent should look and act.

So Cooper gets the assignment with strict orders to observe only for the sole purpose of forcing her to break those orders, because that’s all part of the cliché. This will not do with veteran agent Rick Ford, played by a foul-mouthed Jason Statham in a refreshingly comic turn. Ford just cannot accept that he cannot solve the case. He fails to understand that the bad guy—or rather gal—now knows him. While he embraces his ignorance to a fault, it could be that Ford is the ultimate metaphor for male insecurity. He overcompensates in his actions and his language and in his own concept of his intelligence.

In fact, every major male character in the movie is some form of misogynist. Fine treats Cooper as some sort of servant or child, even giving her childish trinket jewelry as a reward for her efforts, without which he would surely die. The villain behind the arms purchase, played by Bobby Cannavale, uses Rayna as a way to gain advantage over his competitors and promptly discards her when he has what he wants. And then there’s Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz), an Italian agent brought in to help Cooper with logistics in her assignment. Aldo is the most blatantly misogynistic of the bunch, hitting on anything in heels or a skirt, and yet he also breaks the cliché by being the most open-minded. He does not discriminate between targets. He’s as turned on by Cooper in her sad fashion choices and Midwestern farm mom appearance as he is by any woman, maybe more so.

The greatest feat that Feig accomplishes here is his juggling act between fully embracing the espionage clichés and defiantly breaking them with biting social commentary about Hollywood’s sexist nature. And he does all that with hysterical comedy. The language may be harsh for some, but most of it fits into the film’s thematic philosophies of twisting and flipping the gender roles and genre expectations. This team of Feig and McCarthy can’t be beat, and I cannot wait to see just how they flip the genders again in next year’s “Ghostbusters” franchise reboot.

Warning! Red Band trailer contains foul language.

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