The most recent entry in Paul Feig’s mission to take on each and every genre comedy (romantic comedy, buddy cop comedy, now spy comedy), Spy easily could have felt unoriginal and rote. Instead, it is both exceedingly funny and clever, and original enough to feel like a fresh take on the oft-spoofed genre. Rather than hitting the James Bond films straight on, like genre parody brethren Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery or Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Feig’s Spy smartly implements parody by way of pastiche. There are certainly moments that spoof 007, but they stand alongside jabs toward Mission:Impossible, Face/Off, and every single Jason Statham role. This allows it to feel nimbler and less formulaic than lesser parodies.
Thankfully, Susan Cooper is no Austin Powers or Maxwell Smart. Despite being a new field agent, it is her competence that pushes the film forward. It’s not her smart sidekick that’s saving the day while she pratfalls, she is both carrying out the mission and protecting it from the brash and hyperconfident Agent Ford (Jason Statham). This is the key to the film’s success. When jokes come at McCarthy’s expense, they aren’t put downs (fat lady fall down and go boom) so much as setbacks or obstacles. While it would be easy to draw comparison’s between the tough-talking, ball-kicking Cooper and her character from Bridesmaids, this role achieves the best balance between her sweet and tough sides, and is the best role of McCarthy’s career to date.
Spy also features a supporting cast so amazing and well-casted, the word “ridiculous” comes to mind. Jason Statham is easily one of the highlights of the film, well suited to poking fun at himself, his previous roles, and the “rogue agent” trope. If he is the stand-in for Daniel Craig’s Bond, then Jude Law’s Agent Fine is a loving tribute to the Moore (and Brosnan) eras of 007, the suave and collected Brit, equally happy at a fancy party or fancy restaurant. Allison Janney’s deadpan contributions as Susan’s boss bring some of the biggest laughs in the film. Layering on this humor on top of the goofier moments is always a welcome move, and Janney knocks every line out of the park. Peter Serafinowicz is brilliantly utilized as a handsy Italian agent, never failing to turn any sentence into a creepy innuendo, but the character has a surprising amount of depth.
On the other side, Bobby Cannavale is well-suited to playing a slick Italian arms dealer, but it is Rose Byrne’s performance that steals almost every scene. Byrne has shown off her comedic chops in Neighbors, but Rayna Boyanov is both a recognizable character and a scene breaking machine. Between her shrill, mean girl quips and her ever escalating hair styles, she is one of Spy’s most memorable characters. This is a deeply stacked bench, and the film is much more of an ensemble effort than it might seem at first glance.
While not quite an action comedy, the film does have a few good fight scenes and some chases. The best scene in the film might be a fight that takes place in a restaurant kitchen, which could be highlighted for the foley artistry on display alone.
Spy is a film about beating expectations, and it certainly does.
Spy opens in Philly area theaters today.