Whether he's directing someone else's material or his own, Paul Feig's style of comedy wasn't something I expected to be as polarizing with moviegoers as it's become over the past few years. Despite Bridesmaids' wide critical and commercial success, it has built a good proportion of detractors since its release, pointing to it being shrill and unlikable. The lukewarm-yet-positive reception and thriving box office presence of buddy-cop romp The Heat suggests a continuation of that; however, the exaggerated, obvious crudity of the writing and focus on Melissa McCarthy's now-trademark style got far fewer laughs out of me amid its mess of a script. With Spy, Feig's quasi-spoof of its namesake subgenre, things seem to have come full-circle: despite praiseworthy usage of the supporting cast and its plucky R-rated initiative towards lampooning Bourne and Bond antics, less of the humor strikes the chord that it should amid the shtick that follows McCarthy around, expending her amiable screen presence on incredibly transparent and clumsily crass espionage satire.
McCarthy once again teams with Paul Feig to play Susan Cooper, a desk-bound CIA agent who has funneled her talents into the real-time monitoring, analysis, and handling of all-star field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law), whose roguish charisma and rapport with Susan has led to some one-sided infatuation. When one of Fine's missions -- the search for the daughter, Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), of a deceased terrorist who knew the whereabouts of a nuclear weapon -- goes south and the identities of several CIA operatives are compromised, the idea is introduced for Susan to go out in the field and gather intel. Considering their limited options and time sensitivity, and despite the resistance to the idea from renegade agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham), her boss (Allison Janney) decides she's the best choice for the operation. Armed with aliases tailored to her appearance, Susan Cooper heads overseas and attempts to trail those involved, later finding herself way over her head when she becomes personally wrapped up in Rayna Boyanov's network.
Unsurprisingly, the identities doled out to Cooper focus on accentuating the frumpiness of her disposition, based around that stereotypical cat lady and bible thumper vibe of puffy hair, tacky sweaters, and big eyewear. That, unfortunately, embodies the brand of humor highlighted in Spy, where conspicuous identities that aren't fooling anyone -- and sure as hell aren't keeping Cooper under the radar -- jab at her physical traits and seem inexplicably designed to make her life a living hell while undercover. Sure, she later takes control of the situation in a crow-pleasing display of bucking those assumptions and conquering insecurities, but not after the writing's concentration on those aliases created by the CIA wreaks havoc on the integrity of the premise. Spy never positions itself to be that broad of a parody, to which Feig attempts to have his cake and eat it, too, by frequently overstepping the boundary that separates zany comedy from the likes of Casino Royale or National Lampoon-caliber silliness. "We just need someone who can shadow them without attracting attention". Yeah, okay.
The intent with Cooper and her exaggerated identities is understandable, though, bringing out facets of Melissa McCarthy's wide stable of characteristics without them sticking around long enough to grow tiresome in the espionage setting: the jittery sweetness of chef Sookie; the bumbling awkwardness of bridesmaid Megan; and, especially, the trigger-happy mouth of officer Mullins. They're tempered by the modest, emerging attitude of Susan Cooper herself, whose tactical and intellectual talents as a CIA agent have been suppressed by her fondness for Fine and her self-perceived inadequacy, forming into a likable, genuine character for McCarthy -- and a physically capable one! -- that offsets her missteps in Tammy and Identity Thief. Alas, she's constantly working against the brashness of Paul Feig's script, which reduces many of her scenes to gags involving bat turds and projectile vomit, expletive-riddled rants that overstay their welcome, and forced tangents about her appearance and doe-eyed affection for Fine, all of which try to make Cooper appear more disjointed than she actually is.
It's almost as if there's another movie going on in Spy that's independent of the raunchy antics surrounding McCarthy: a smarter and more restrained send-up of the genre that's persistently interrupted by its over-comedic relief, driven by the individual quirks of the proficient supporting cast. You could argue that's part of the point of Feig's film, that someone has stumbled into this cloak-and-dagger atmosphere within which she really doesn't belong (even though, minor spoiler, she actually kinda does), yet there's a pronounced, unfunny disparity in quality between the two sides. The cheeky charisma and overpraised skill of Bradley Fine charms his way to life through Jude Law, someone whose name frequently comes up in James Bond rumors. Jason Statham channels the jocular energy of his roles in Crank and Guy Ritchie's work into the brutish and boastful agent Rick Ford, delivering a few stronger laughs despite his on-the-nose timing. And Rose Byrne intensifies her uptight mannerisms within the ruthless heir to a terrorist kingdom, who stringently and humorously embodies the aspects of a convincing, flawed villain.
Director Feig also juggles the action demands of Spy within its mature-rated setting, where his familiarity with physical comedy emerges in smartly-edited stealth and crowd sequences that emphasize both energy and wit ... and understands the right times to shed a little blood. While some of the film's validity gets diminished by the silliness of certain situations -- a bulky scooter chasing down a performance BMW; an overlong brawl between Cooper and a highly-trained assassin -- that once again struggle with the boundaries of its comedic identity, the momentum of the action stays consistent throughout its mirroring and subversion of beats from the other Casino Royale. Yet again brandishing a gun but also telegraphing a sense of style alongside it, McCarthy keeps up with the unassuming aptitude of Cooper's hand-to-hand combat and firearms training, never looking like an actual spy, by design, but always appearing capable enough to scrape by in the obstacles thrown at her throughout the ordeal. The action isn't anything impressive or redemptive, but it shows a little versatile polish from Feig.
Within a globe-trotting swirl of red herrings, plot twists, and fluid allegiances befitting a standard entry of the genre, Spy ultimately comes up short in bonding its dueling objectives into a cohesive picture, reaching the finish line more on the merits of its meager levity within the action than its cluttered, blatant humor. Therein lies the rub of Feig's latest flick: not only does the comedy aspect frequently fall flat across its two-hour runtime, it also gets in the way of the overlong pacing by dwelling on incompatible shenanigans. By the time Susan Cooper reaches the climax of her outing away from the desk, the director crams in enough deep-butt, groping, and assorted slapstick jokes -- despite Peter Serafinowicz stealing attention as a hornball Italian ally -- to eclipse the triumphant inclinations of its fully-empowered finale. What Spy lacks is a more covert, less garish approach, one which should take Susan Cooper and her mind-boggling climb out the CIA's basement, already an easy source of situational humor, a hair more seriously than it does.
Spy arrives from Fox Home Entertainment in a standard single-disc presentation, with an outer slipcase replicating the front and back of the bold outer artwork. Both theatrical (2:00:06) and unrated (2:10:22) cuts of the film have been included on the disc, amounting to about ten minutes of subtle additions and rearranged edits spread throughout the film that, frankly, are difficult to pinpoint without a surgical eye; a few jokes and moments, notably one at the very end of the film, benefit from the expanded content. A Digital HD slip has also been included.
Video and Audio:
Spy commands quite a presence on Blu-ray, shot with a brisk attitude in keeping with its spy-genre intentions while navigating the streets and interiors of the foreign locale, while also retaining the comedic lucidity of close-ups on the actor's body language and line delivery. Therefore, it doesn't come as much of a surprise that the 2.35:1-framed digital photography looks quite smashing within Fox's transfer, mustering few complaints in its razor-sharp detail, impeccable contrast balance, and appropriate skin tones. Sun-drenched greens, the steely grays of the city, neon shades at a nightclub and in the CIA HQ, and the crisp aqua and blue of water nail down worthwhile high-definition shades. Black levels are rich but respective of objects moving around in them, especially in complexly-lit and dusty corridors. Strands of hair, both stylish and kitschy garments, and fine elements within necklaces, artillery, and splashes of liquid material are delightfully immaculate. The film's fierce range of motion, from brisk chases to stealth movement, also flows impeccably in 24p, walking and talking like a robust action flick on Blu-ray.
Spy also has the aural pulse and oomph of an action flick, an experience which Fox took seriously by offering a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track to keep up with the gunfire, the helicopter and boat chases, and hand-to-hand brawls involved. The pop of firearms the clank of metal surfaces on flesh offer rich lows and top-shelf clarity, though some smaller effects -- footsteps on natural surfaces, the slam of a body into a parked car -- run into a little thinness and restraint to the center channel. Activity really sprawls out across the channels, though, especially during the stereotypical action sequences where you're expecting robust activity(helicopter blades, revving engines, etc.), offering atmospheric and punchy bass response alongside fine clarity. Dialogue is well-pitched, natural and responsive to environmental design, while music playing at a club offers appropriate volume levels that keep voices and other details audible. On top of that, the energy of the score generously spreads out across the entire stage for a rigorous experience. English, French, and Spanish subs are available.
Here's something cool. Paul Feig and several members of his crew have provided an Audio Commentary for Spy, though it's not only limited to one cut of the film: they recorded content for the unrated cut and edited it down so it can play alongside the theatrical cut, too. Feig's inspiration, awareness of the production, and general energy propels the discussion from start to finish, discussing the difficulties of lighting and shooting in areas, brief details and histories of locations, staying authentic with the action side of the film, details about stunts and the actors behind them, and tracking little production elements and how they derived from Paul Feig's creative process: necklaces, napkins, big hair, etc. They also introduce unique stories about scheduling conflicts, including how Fast and Furious 7 impacted their shoot, as well as where Paul Feig makes a cameo appearance in the film and who's really responsible for Susan Cooper's wild appearances. Very fun, insightful listen that keeps its energy.
If you're not in the mood for a commentary track, fret not: there are several other extras that cover a reputable amount of ground, though navigating the number can be a bit daunting ... especially when there's a lot of fluff and a good amount of stuff exclusive to the track. The most straightforward and essential of them is an eight-part series on How Spy Was Made, which features a lot of behind-the-scenes footage peppered with press-kit interview content that discusses the following: Paul Feig's adaptive, trustworthy direction and his troves of alternate material (and those ideas they didn't shoot); utilizing the humor and physicality of Jason Statham; the unassuming complexity and humor embedded in the stunts; filming a vibrant and kinetic club sequence; McCarthy showing off Susan's silly outfits; the dynamic between Feig and McCarthy; and others. Over fifty minutes of material covers a pretty wide spread that communicates a vibrant and genuinely satisfied attitude from those involved; unfortunately, there isn't a "play all" function, so they must be individually activated.
As one can expect from Feig's free-form comedic style, there's a lot of content he shot that went unused, which makes up most of the remaining featurettes. Somewhat in keeping with the pair of Gag Reels (6:39, 3:43; 16x9 HD) available on the disc, Director of Intelligence Feig Makes the Cast Do His Bidding (8:53, 16x9 HD) zeroes in on the director feeding impromptu lines and alternate takes to his actors as the cameras roll. While separate from the Redacted Scenes (3:13, 16x9 HD) and Classified Alternate Scenes (31:51, 16x9 HD), Susan and Her Men (8:18, 16x9 HD) also similarly features extended/alternate content involving her saucier interactions with the film's male stars, while For Your Eyes Only: Jokes Aplenty (13:25, 16x9 HD) mashes together a bunch of unused (and largely ineffective) comedic material from throughout the film.
The rest are a collection of brief and more inconsequential bits with those same recurring themes, which -- in my opinion -- should be lower-priority viewing material: Super-Villain Rayna Can't Keep It Together (5:05, 16x9 HD) focuses on five minutes of the charming Rose Byrne cracking up and breaking character; Super Vermin (1:34, 16x9 HD) highlights some of the wisely-cut rodent content from the CIA headquarters; The Many Deaths of Anton (:57, 16x9 HD) is self-explanatory; The Trouble With Covers (2:28, 16x9 HD) features a quick collection of everyone confusing character names with real names; The Great Rick Ford (3:42, 16x9 HD) collects unused exaggerated material involving Statham's character; The Handsy World of Spies (1:52, 16x9 HD) includes more gag-reel content featuring, uh, all the groping; Speaking Is An Art Form (1:57, 16x9 HD) deals with even more outtakes of fumbled dialogue; and Super Villains of the Animal World (2:19, 16x9 HD) features mice and bugs getting cozy with the actors. A Photo Gallery and a Trailer (1:52, 16x9 HD) top off the bountiful extras.
With Spy, director Paul Feig takes on a semi-satire of the flick's namesake subgenre, balancing his brand of humor with conventional espionage action and thrills. Wrapped within a fish-outta-water setup involving a desk-operating CIA analyst who gets embroiled in field work, Feig takes a lot of initiative in melding his R-rating comedy with spy-thriller energy and bolstering the effort with a well-chosen, charismatic supporting cast. Effective laughs are in shorter supply than the director's previous work, though, inundated with excessively juvenile gags that undermine Melissa McCarthy's affable, unlikely heroine. There's a degree of entertainment value about the whole package that makes it worthwhile, but the amusing and suspenseful sides of Spy are constantly struggling to jibe with one another, enough to make "just going with it" more difficult than it should be. Fox Home Entertainment's Blu-ray looks and sounds phenomenal, and comes loaded with a ton of extras that include a commentary, nearly an hour of behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a ton of amusingly-edited gag reels and unused material. Very mildly Recommended as a home-video package, but one viewing should be enough for many.