With the phenomenal success of the James Bond franchise – 23 films and counting – it’s no surprise that suave, debonair spies are fruitful ground for satire and parody. Starting almost with the first 007 movie, filmmakers have found cheap laughs and wry social commentary an easy mix, whether it’s James Coburn as Derek Flint, Dean Martin as Matt Helm, Mike Myers as Austin Powers or the 70’s TV series Get Smart and its entertaining 2008 cinematic film of the same name. Heck, the last few Roger Moore Bond films approached satire themselves.
It’s no surprise that the hottest comic actor in Hollywood would find a spy spoof to be a good theme for her next film. Unfortunately, Spy is terrible, though that’s no surprise as it’s helmed by Paul Feig, director of the crass, banal and yes, successful, Bridesmaids.
Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is an awkward, mousey and vulnerable CIA analyst, and the unsung hero behind the Agency’s most successful field agents and missions. When her partner Bradley Fine (Jude Law) is killed she volunteers to go deep undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer and prevent a global disaster.
A clumsy, unattractive female desk jockey in the field? Agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) is so appalled that he quits the agency, though he certainly manages to keep popping up like a bad penny. In fact, Statham is the funniest person in the movie by far, with his non-stop tough-guy patter, his increasingly ludicrous one-upmanship stories about life in the field and his constant stream of vulgarities.
Indeed, the first portion of Spy is quite promising, albeit in a manner startlingly reminiscent (almost lawsuit-worthy reminiscent) of the far funnier Get Smart. Once Cooper goes into the field, however, the film takes a turn for the worse, with the marginal charm of McCarthy’s midwest cat lady character transformed into a crude, borish and ugly American. For reasons that are completely baffling, by the second half of the film every character, even the sophisticated Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) is suddenly swearing like a drunk sailor and it’s just not very funny.
Much of the film is played straight, notably including the opening titles which look like they’re done by the same studio that did the beautiful Skyfall opening. But this is a parody, a comedy, so from the very first frame, there’s an oddness about the tonality. The production values are splendid, however, and there’s a technical competence about the exterior shots, the special effects, the “tech”, that’s unusual in a comedy. Kudos to the production team. But that’s not enough to make a good, entertaining spy satire.
Ultimately, there’s a really funny PG-13 spy film comedy buried in all the footage for Spy, but the addition of so much crude, asinine, unnecessarily puerile, adolescent humor drags the film down to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and while it’ll be a success at the box office, Spy proved a significant disappointment to this critic. I suggest you skip it and watch either Get Smart or Austin Powers: Man of Mystery, both of which are superior entries in the spy comedy genre.