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Film review: Spy - Paul Feig scores with stylish CIA action comedy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 May, 2015, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 May, 2015, 2:02pm

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Jude Law
Director: Paul Feig
Category: IIB (English, French, Italian)

Espionage is a profitable business for Hollywood at the moment. Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman: The Secret Service put the fun back into the genre. To come, we have Guy Ritchie's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and maybe even Daniel Craig's 007 will have a smile on his face by the time Spectre rolls around.

Until then, we have Paul Feig's CIA action-comedy Spy to contend with — a rib-tickler with a healthy dose of Secret Service shenanigans. After directing her in both Bridesmaids and The Heat, Feig's secret weapon is Melissa McCarthy, who revels in a role more multifaceted than Hollywood has so far allowed her.

She plays Susan Cooper, a middle-aged, low-level CIA analyst — competent but desk-bound. As the film opens, her job is to guide Jude Law's suave, Bond-like spy, as he hunts a missing nuclear device. But when he is compromised — permanently — the agency has to find a spy to take his place. The rookie Cooper volunteers and soon she's out in the field.

McCarthy's usual crude screen image has been replaced here by a slightly more pathetic/sympathetic figure, as evidenced by the Midwestern-loser disguises her boss (Allison Janney, on fine form) keeps forcing her to wear. A human punching bag for just about every other character, her only ally is a fellow CIA minion, played by the British comic actress Miranda Hart, whose unique brand of self-loathing falls very flat here.

If casting Hart is Feig's one major error, the director gets it right in just about every other department.

McCarthy's fellow Bridesmaids star, Rose Byrne, is hilarious as Rayna Boyanov, a catty villainess with a knack for disparaging put-downs. Also good value is British action star Jason Statham, sending up his hard-man persona as a CIA spy with ludicrous claims of indestructibility. Yet just about everyone is upstaged by Peter Serafinowicz, who is brilliantly committed as Susan's sleazy Italian contact.

While Spy only gets going once McCarthy is hopping between Paris, Rome and Budapest, Feig manages an impressive balancing act between action and comedy. It's not gag-a-minute — so don't expect a modern-day update on Leslie Neilsen's Spy Hard or an Austin Powers-style spoof — nor is it jammed with action.

The plot is tightly constructed, has the odd twist and allows scope for those explosive set-pieces that Hollywood loves. It's not John le Carré, but Spy is more than just an excuse for guns and gags. The result is slick, stylish and all-encompassing entertainment that sizzles nicely.

And as warm-up for next year's Feig-McCarthy reunion with their Bridesmaids' pal Kristen Wiig in the all-girl Ghostbusters reboot, it's very promising.

Spy opens on May 21