SPY // LAUGHTER’S FIRST LADY

“Unaccompanied Minors” director Paul Feig has been grooming plus-sized actress Melissa McCarthy for the big time since he cast her as the loquacious, scene-stealing, puppy-napper in “Bridesmaids.” Meanwhile, when she isn’t co-starring in her prime-time CBS-TV series “Mike and Molly,” McCarthy has been landing bigger roles in “Identity Thief” and “The Heat.” McCarthy proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that she had USDA approved comedic chops. If anybody doubted the stout star’s ability to shuffle off her comedic coil and play it straight, they need only observe her in the superlative Bill Murray art-house comedy “St. Vincent.”
Now, in Feig’s sixth film “Spy,” McCarthy has finally arrived. Watching “Spy” is like watching the evolution of cinematic comedy. If this audacious, but formulaic espionage spoof doesn’t solidify McCarthy’s status as the first fat lady of laughter, nothing will. She is the whole show, not the sidekick or the scene stealer! “Spy” represents the zenith of McCarthy’s career as a leading lady. Mind you, she is still a big gal, but from now on she will be THE BIG GAL, and everybody will be strumming second fiddle to her.
As forty-something, deskbound, CIA analyst Susan Cooper, McCarthy toils tirelessly without recognition from a vermin-infested basement in Langley, Virginia. She makes it possible for one of the top field agents, Bradley Fine (Jude Law of “Cold Mountain”), to survive perils galore. In a snappy opening shoot’em up sequence set in faraway Bulgaria, the debonair Fine, decked out like a dapper James Bond, dodges an army of gunmen while he searches for a dastardly villain who has stolen a tactical nuclear bomb. Cooper serves as Fine’s liaison. Communicating via satellite by means of high-tech surveillance equipment consisting of an earpiece and a tiny contact lens camera that Fine sports, Together, nobody can thwart them. Not surprisingly, Susan has an obvious crush on her attractive colleague. Eventually, Bradley confronts his chief adversary, Eastern European arms dealer Tihomir Boyanov (Raad Rawi of “Traitor”), and threatens to shoot him. Refusing to reveal the whereabouts of the nuke, Boyanov calls Bradley’s bluff. Unfortunately for Boyanov, Bradley suffers an attack of hay fever that makes him sneeze so that he accidentally shoots Tihomir in the head. Later, Bradley renews his hunt. This time he pursues Boyanov’s haughty daughter Rayna (Rose Byrne of “Bridesmaids”) but she gets the drop on Bradley and kills him. Naturally, Susan has a ringside seat for this startling occasion and watches in disbelief as Rayna murders Bradley.
Predictably, Susan’s superior, CIA Deputy Director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney of “Juno”), finds herself in a fix because the opposition knows the identities of her surviving field agents. This doesn’t deter brash, loud-mouthed Rick Ford (Jason Statham of “The Transporter” movies) from demanding that Crocker assign him to the case with a different face. Mistakenly, Ford believes the CIA possesses a miracle machine that enables agents to change their faces, like John Travolta did in the 1997 John Woo extravaganza “Face/Off,” so he can save the day. Livid that everybody has lied to him about such a gizmo, Ford storms out, and Crocker decides reluctantly to send Susan out into the field to follow Rayna and locate the bomb. Susan is dying to play spy, but Crocker saddles her with a variety of unflattering aliases that take advantage of her frumpy figure. Nevertheless, despite these derisive disguises, Susan embarks on a European outing that takes her from Paris to Rome and finally to Budapest. Not only does she manage to track down the wicked Rayna, but she also fools her into believing she has gone rogue. Later, she finds an elusive Al Qaeda-oriented terrorist, Sergio De Luca (Bobby Cannavale of “Snakes on a Plane”), who wants to blow up New York City with the nuke. Along the way, Susan runs afoul of Ford. He claims he is shadowing her to save her life, but she winds up saving his life. The best fight scene in “Spy” has Susan contending with an indestructible female adversary, Kia (Nargis Fakhri), who doesn’t flinch even after our heroine shoves a knife through one of her hands. Susan winds up commandeering motor scooters, cars, jets, and a helicopter to preserve civilization from the enemy.
Undoubtedly, brawny action star Jason Statham delivers the second best performance. Nothing prevents him from ridiculing his own tough guy persona with a heretofore unbelievable sense of abandon. Statham is shameless as McCarthy’s egotistical counterpart.
As Susan’s CIA basement colleague Nancy B. Artingstall, British actress Miranda Hart of the “Call the Midwife” television series knows how to steal scenes, too. Basically, nobody gives a bad performance in this exhilarating action comedy. Furthermore, writer & director Paul Feig doesn’t pull any punches. Characters get their heads blown off in halos of blood, and politically incorrect laughs ensue. Feig stages several bullet-riddled shootouts, and McCarthy gets to beat the stuffing out of several, robust ruffians. Altogether, “Spy” qualifies as a riotous saga with McCarthy dominating the shenanigans.

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