SPY***. May the farce be with you


SPY IS A pleasant enough diversion, with a few smiles, a couple of laughs, and some clever digs at everything from movie-imagined spying to romance. Melissa McCarthy (as CIA Agent Susan Cooper) and her charming, deliberately understated accomplice in the story, Miranda Hart (Agent Nancy B) are to be celebrated for being at the forefront of this brave new expanding world of female comedians (after the glass ceiling was cracked by Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore and finally shattered by the likes of Sandra Bullock, Julia Dreyfuss, Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman) Melissa’s now well-known, quasi-branded take-no-shit, potty mouthed (she calls one ‘baddie’, “thundercunt”), tough-gal shtick is the driving force of the movie.

Director Paul Feig has had the good grace and wisdom to hang his often derivative spy spoof  (Ever since “Our Man Flint” we’ve been paying a high price for the pleasures of 007) around Melissa’s exuberantly charismatic comedic character and, understandably, around a theme of female empowerment. Indeed, the whole movie turns the tired convention upside down: it’s not about good guys against bad guys, but good girls against bad girls (usually the movie domaine of bitchy teenagers in High School).

The story centers around a frantic pelt around the world to find and stop the sale of a nuclear device. Key agents Bradley Fine (Jude Law) who is being controlled remotely by desk operative Agent Cooper as if he were some sort of human drone, and Agent Forde (Jason Stratham, brilliantly channelling his inner idiot) have been outed. So it’s up to those other by-passed, overlooked (because they’re women) Agents, Cooper and Nancy B to man-up.

As it were.

Once in the field, Cooper morphs from mousy Bridesmaid to Kick-Ass; stud-muffins Fine and Forde become mere background distractions; and nancy B lands her first kill. She also lands 50 Cent. Yes, that 50 Cent, who does as convincing a comedic turn as Jude and Jason. Rose Byrne (“The Place Beyond the Pines”) is the femme fatale who, despite an on-going gag about her extravagantly coiffured hair, is the movie’s weakest link. She seems to have wandered in from some other (much more serious) movie. Or maybe she’s just having a bad hair film.

“Spy” just manages (by a whisker) to edge away from being just another cynical, blockbuster, money-making “vehicle”. Director Feig sticks to the kind of physical, slapstick comedy that I guess plays better globally (where the nuance of sharp writing can well be lost in translation). And having had massive successes with his past few outings (“The Heat”, “Bridesmaids”, “The Office”) has clearly been handed an (almost) blank cheque.

This is a slick, glossy, expensively made movie (for about $65M; with a gross so far in the US of about $45M) that at times comes so creepily close to some of the ‘straight’ spy films (Mission Impossible and Bond) that it makes you appreciate just how close to farce the entire genre is.

And it is this element of farce that, I think, Guy Ritchie brings in his up-coming release of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E”

Can’t wait


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