Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) are fast becoming the new comedic Hollywood hot couple, not just in terms of their continued financial success, but also in terms of their ever-growing fanbase. With Spy, their latest comedy caper, there will be absolutely no doubt that any cinema screen showing it will be empty on the day of release, such is their box-office pull factor. Which makes this reviewer utterly miserable. More miserable then when he had to sit through the damn film in the first place!
Let’s get this out of the way early – Spy is not funny in the slightest. It’s not overly offensive or in bad taste. No, for the two hour running time, it just exists! Its there, onscreen, existing, playing out before your eyes, trying to tempt a chuckle from your good self, and utterly failing. Its lowest common denominator humour combines with overplayed performances and attempts at spoof that feel antiquated.
Following meek CIA analyst Susan Cooper as she takes an undercover assignment to avenge her friend and partner (played by Jude Law) when he is assassinated by Rose Byrne’s ruthless mastermind behind a stolen nuclear device, Spy goes from cheap gag to cheap gag like a bullet train, a lot of them centered around McCarthy’s outer appearance, from an embarrassingly unfunny gadget-training scene to the repeated gag revolving around her being given undercover identities as crazy cat-ladies, which gets less funny the more it occurs (and it wasn’t really that funny to begin with). The idea behind a lot of the humour is to make you cringe, and whilst it certainly achieves the cringe quota here, there aren’t many laughs to go with it.
Feig’s main problem, both here and in his other films, is that he allows his actors to ad-lib a lot of the dialogue. This should be fine, but a lot of them (McCarthy being the main offender) just use this as a chance to spout swear word after swear word at the top of their lungs, without including a single joke in the mix. Its grating after about 3 minutes, more so when it carries on for about an hour.
There are some positives to proceedings. Not enough to save the film, but at least there’s something. Feig certainly proves he can direct action scenes, all of which are fast, frenzied and stylish, and McCarthy certainly works well in these moments too. And Jason Statham is easily the comedic highlight here, even if his role is small and one-note. It’s just a shame the rest of the film is so boring and lacking in laughs.
Perhaps if Spy was made 10 years ago, it would perhaps feel less lazy and overdone. Perhaps if it had come out before Kingsman: The Secret Service, this year’s much more clever, inspired and funny send-up of the spy film genre, it would have had something to offer. Now however, it simply feels like a tired cliche, running on recycled, unfunny gags that the Johnny English films would have steered clear of.
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