The New McCarthyism: Spy

06/03/2015 11:56 AM |
courtesy of Fox

Directed by Paul Feig
Opens June 5

The rare big-budget high-concept action-comedy that doesn’t lumber or wheeze, Spy may be the best showcase yet for the comic gifts of star Melissa McCarthy. Its affectionate send-up of the Bond franchise serves as a vehicle for sharp observation of the double standards faced by women in the professional world. McCarthy stars as a CIA desk jockey whose diligent but unglamorous support work secretly enables the suave derring-do of Bond-like covert operative Bradley Fine (Jude Law)—until the inevitable mole in the outfit leads her to venture into the field.

The admirably convoluted story concerns the attempt to foil the double agent and keep a nuclear weapon out of the hands of terrorists, but writer-director Paul Feig keeps the plot mechanics in the background in order to focus on interpersonal relationships, an approach that pays rich dividends with this cast of seasoned pros. As McCarthy’s agency superior and her European arms-dealer quarry, respectively, Allison Janney and Rose Byrne undertake a taxonomy of withering expressions and verbal knife-twisting, throwing shade with ruthless efficiency. McCarthy gets moral support in the form of her gawky British officemate and confederate in awkward self-consciousness (Miranda Hart), but also has to contend with the nearly reflex-like advances of her handsy foreign contact (Peter Serafinowicz). Nevertheless, the highlight remains Jason Statham’s performance as an agent in the smash-first, why-ask-questions-later mold, a part tailor-made to his shiny bald head.

As Statham and Law blunder into danger without fear of the consequences, McCarthy second-guesses herself at every step, only gradually convincing herself of her own abilities. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the creator of the justly revered Freaks and Geeks is able to wring laughs from such potentially fraught topics as the glass ceiling, soft sexism, body-shaming and impostor syndrome, but it’s impressive nevertheless. Nor should Feig’s ambition be mistaken for pretension: it’s to his credit that he’s not above pratfalls, fart jokes, or comically exaggerated gore.

Its politics notwithstanding, Feig’s film isn’t quite timely—if anything, it’s overdue. Regardless, it will help to pass the time until his Ghostbusters remake (starring McCarthy) arrives next year.