Writer-director Paul Feig and his “Bridesmaids” muse, Melissa McCarthy, flip the script and ditch the fat jokes for their latest. And “Spy,” a bloody-minded spy spoof, is all the richer for it.
A profane pistol-packing riff on the Bond formula, it makes McCarthy more empowered than delusional, more under-estimated than her go-to pity party, loneliness.
Yes, as CIA Agent Susan Cooper she (and her stunt doubles) are still graceful pratfallers. And yeah, she’s still a potty mouth, especially in an overlong third act that seems more like “The Heat” than “Live and Let Die.” But they’ve built a character that’s more real and likable, and they’ve found yet another foil for her to swap insults with.
Cooper is a “basement” agent, one of the computer desk jockeys who talks the real secret agents, including her debonair crush, Bradley Fine (Jude Law, a hoot), through every potentially deadly Bulgarian dinner party.
Fine dies at the hands of an arch-villain, played by McCarthy’s fellow Bridesmaid Rose Byrne. So the boss (Allison Janney, corrosive) lets Cooper go into the field to observe the terrorists (Bobby Cannavale among them) trying to sell a briefcase A-bomb.
From Paris to Rome and beyond, Cooper is in over her head, something she’s reminded of every time rogue Agent Ford (Jason Statham) interferes with her surveillance, usually by bragging about all the poisons he’s survived and the shootings, impalings and dismemberments he’s endured.
Byrne, slinging and swearing through a Slavic accent, tartly taunts Agent Cooper’s “abortion of a dress” and other shortcomings.
A smart move – building the humor around Cooper’s insulting cover identities – dowdy Midwestern moms and Mary Kay saleswomen. Another, hurling Statham, straight-faced, bug-eyed and furious, at McCarthy, in a raging back and forth that ignites the movie every time they’re paired up.
Peter Serafinowicz (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) shows up as a hilarious Italian agent, all moon-eyed and groping in the presence of La Bella Cooper.
The fights and deaths are somewhat comical, the one-liners hit or miss and the stunts faked with less sleight of hand than a director experienced in action might have managed.
And Feig can’t bear to end this thing, which goes on far past the point of endurance.
But he’s done better by McCarthy here, and she has delivered a performance that’s more deft than her usual daft. That makes “Spy” a “Johnny English” that works, a Bond movie where the empowered women have it all over the Bonds – and the Bond babes.
C+ CAST: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Allison Janney.
WRITER-DIRECTOR: Paul Feig.
RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes.
RATING: R (language throughout, violence and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity).