After her partner is presumably killed and another top agent is compromised, an unassuming, desk-bound CIA analyst, and unsung hero behind the Agency’s most dangerous missions, volunteers to go deep undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent a global disaster.
Synopsis (Warning: May contain spoilers, duh!)
The Gist of It: ‘Spy’ is an uproarious blast of globe-trotting action-comedy delirium that involves an eager-to-please desk-jockey turned full-blown CIA operative who learns to wield a gun as skilfully as she does a one-liner. ‘Spy’ refreshingly presents itself as one of the smarter, funnier, more versatile big screen mockery flicks to date.
Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is a forty-something desk-bound analyst in a vermin-ridden basement that assists super spy CIA operative Bradley Fine (Jude Law) from her computer monitor, providing him with instant life-saving updates. Yielding the full power of the United States Military Industrial Complex at her fingertips, she is able to pull off numerous surprises to keep her agent alive in the field.
This highly effective working relationship invariably leaves the hard-working Susan feeling more like a secretary / assistant than an equal, in spite of her having many years of successful field training. It also doesn’t help that she’s nursing a major unrequited crush on Fine, who, much like everyone else, looks at her and sees a single, middle-aged, overweight loner whose Agency career has probably already peaked.
The film opens with an extended combat sequence in Bulgaria as Fine searches for a nuclear weapon, with him effortlessly manoeuvring past every obstacle and enemy assailant in his path. However, Fine’s luck eventually runs out when he enters a home where the CIA’s best technology is snarled and rendered inoperative. This results in super spy agent Bradley Fine being taken out of commission by haughty Raina Boyanov (Rose Byrne), an aristocratic arms dealer with a flair for extravagance.
Raina, who somehow knows all the identities of all the CIA’s top operatives, rambles off a list of names and warns them to back-off. The stakes are extremely high because the agency is trying to recover a mobile nuclear device before it is sold into the hands of a terrorist organization that plan to set if off in New York City. This is when Susan Cooper, determined to avenge her partner’s death, volunteers, for the first time ever, to become a field agent.
The CIA director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) is reluctant but after viewing Susan’s training videos from a decade before, she decides to give the operation a green light. However, surly meathead agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) is adamantly opposed to sending the middle-aged frumpy Susan into the field.
The CIA sends Susan to her first assignment in Paris, where she is assigned a basic track-and-report mission and is forbidden from making contact with her target Raina. Instead of being armed with an arsenal of hi-tech gadgets, she gets poison darts and pepper spray disguised as things a middle-aged woman is expected to carry: a spray for a fungal infection, stool-softening pills, wipes for piles etc. As for her undercover outfit: “I look like someone’s homophobic aunt.”
Should her intel prove valuable, it could lead them not only to Raina but also to Sergio De Luca (Bobby Cannavale), a greasy-haired terrorist who’s trying to acquire the nuke for his own nefarious, loosely Al Qaeda-related reasons. This begins a whirlwind international adventure as the plot quickly thickens, with Susan’s mission taking her from Paris to Rome and even Budapest. Assisted by excitable colleague Nancy (Miranda Hart) and sleazy Italian associate Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz), things do not unravel as planned.
There are two noticeable attributes that elevate this flick significantly. Firstly, as opposed to a straightforward parody of a particular genre, ‘Spy’ starts off mocking spy movies before getting down to the business of being a pretty competent version of one. Adrenaline junkies won’t be blown away by ‘Spy’s passable action sequences, but because it transcends mere parody, it finds more places for laughs; particularly, from Susan’s interactions with her fellow spies who aren’t convinced she’ll survive in the field.
Secondly, Melissa McCarthy (who plays Susan Cooper) has shed the uncouth persona that, ironically, helped make her an A-list star. In ‘Spy’, she plays a woman with little self-confidence pining for the dashing agent Fine. But once she begins trying to track down Raina on a mission that sends her to glamorous destinations like Paris and Rome, the humour comes from Susan’s fish-out-of-water insecurity; not the abrasive and ill-mannered persona that propelled her to Hollywood stardom. Surrounded by gorgeous, statuesque women and lethal, arrogant spies, Susan stands out like a sore thumb; and McCarthy milks every ounce of the character’s discomfort for laughs; making Susan incredibly sympathetic. (Also, as opposed to McCarthy’s previous characters in other flicks, Susan Cooper is actually quite capable, using her CIA training to good use and discovering how badass she can be.)
Speaking of characters, the actors in ‘Spy’ have mastered the art of inhabiting two different worlds simultaneously, tossing off even their funnier lines without breaking character. Melissa McCarthy’s Susan Cooper is the perfect mixture of internal insecurity and outward bravado; particularly about halfway through the movie, the actress’s head-butting, expletive-hurling, take-no-prisoners personality emerges in full force as Susan puts aside her earlier timidity and taps into the inner core of rage. Rose Byrne’s Raina is nothing short of brilliant here as an icily glamorous villain with gravity-defying hair, crimson lips, and supreme arrogance; the two superb actresses’ chemistry is an utter joy to watch.
Jason Statham’s Ford, who showcases his comedic chops and rugged swagger, is mainly on hand to perform an ongoing riff in which he tries to convince Susan she’s not cut out for the job and attacks every joke the way he attacks a fight scene; and his uber seriousness only makes it funnier. Jude Law’s Fine, clearly having fun playing Bond for a day, brings an extra shot of star power to the across-the-board superb supporting cast.
‘Spy’ follows the zigzagging patterns of an actual spy movie, with motives revealed and moles uncovered, keeping audiences alike from figuring out who was really double-crossing whom; and for the most part it really connects. ‘Spy’ also offers up more blood and vivid violence than the genre it’s tweaking, but never enough to get in the way of the comedy. If anything, the occasional mayhem reminds us of the danger Susan’s putting herself in while also under-scoring how cartoony many contemporary espionage dramas have become.
‘Spy’ isn’t just an endless procession of jokes where McCarthy simply falls down and walks into things; maybe most surprising of all, there isn’t a single reference to her weight. Don’t get us wrong, there are plenty of references to her frumpy appearance and apparent lack of physical abilities, but on the overall, ‘Spy’ is a vastly rich and intricately conceived piece of work.
Lampooning the alpha-male conventions of the secret agent flick while transferring some of that badassery to an unlikely character, McCarthy’s performance is a never-ending succession of priceless moments. For all her strengths as a verbal and physical performer, there’s a real core of emotion here; remarkably, she manages to pull all these disparate extremes of violence and comedy into a stirring, coherent portrait of a woman motivated by love, loyalty, and a courageous, if unrealized, sense of her own inner worth.
‘Spy’ has struck a winning formula between the silly and the serious, smartly housing an occasionally outrageous comedy in the strict trappings of a traditional espionage tale. This approach of delivering a silly comedy with a straight face benefits ‘Spy’ hugely, and makes it an uneven but undeniably entertaining romp; but it’s not without its pitfalls.
For one, at 120 minutes, it sometimes feels agonizingly long. For a comedy, it borders on exhausting, especially when so many scenes are built around a single joke, batted back and forth between actors. Second, apart from all the dynamic action sequences in the film, the rest of the movie is shot pretty flatly. Third, towards the final act of the film’s narrative it becomes far too convoluted, which is pretty deathly.
Ultimately, we could see ‘Spy’ becoming a little franchise, and future installments could definitely stand to feature more of this deadpan delivery and fine physical comedy. It also wouldn’t hurt if an adversary who is as interesting as the lead characters was introduced as well.
Release Date: 21st May, 2015