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Spy [SXSW 2015]
20th Century Fox // Unrated // June 5, 2015
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
The spy film has ultimately become a genre all its own with franchises such as the Bond series. However, they have certainly evolved over the years as technology has made so many more wild adventures possible. However, writer/director Paul Feig is ready to take on the genre head on with a sense of humor that has become world famous after his hit Bridesmaids. Taking Melissa McCarthy out of the supporting role and into the spotlight, Spy is his combination of hilarity and danger, which proves to be a winning pair.
CIA analyst Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) works in a position that never requires her to leave her seat for much of anything. When she finally gets the opportunity, she volunteers to go undercover in order to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer (Rose Byrne), and prevent diabolical global disaster.
Susan Cooper has always been put down, and so she has never tried to pursue any of her goals. She dreams of having a life more exciting than working from a desk, and is hopelessly in love with the agent that she works with. However, unlike many of her fellow office workers, she has a particular skill set when it comes to fighting and shooting. The majority of spy flicks feature only male agents, with all women either being one of the antagonists or completely defenseless. Feig manipulates such genre clichés by flipping them on their heads, but he still references them in the more comedic aspects of the film. This is especially expressed through the opening credits sequence that will instantly take you back to those of James Bond. Feig clearly has an understanding and an appreciation for the genre, as he constantly plays with the characterizations of the agents, as well as many of the film's themes.
If you've seen any of Feig's previous work, then you know the style of comedy that he creates. It's raunchy and loud, but it flows extremely well. The majority of the jokes are created through exchanges between the characters, as they continue to evolve throughout the course of the conversation. While some of the gags feel a bit repetitive, others get better with each time the feature revisits them. Agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) is convinced that he can carry out the mission solo, but feels the need to overcompensate by speaking about what he has supposedly accomplished on previous missions. These descriptions become progressively more outrageous and humorous as the joke evolves. There's a lot of genuinely well-written comedy in Spy that carries very smoothly to the silver screen. Much like his work with Bridesmaids, Feig successfully manages to build one gag off of another,
Perhaps one of the film's strongest assets is protagonist Susan herself. She's sympathetic and we come to really like her. You'll often find yourself rooting for her to succeed in each step of the mission that she's on. However, at the beginning of the third act, it simply becomes difficult to maintain those feelings. This may be linked to the fact that the film runs just a bit too long with a running time of two hours. By making some minor cuts, it would have allowed the film to run a bit smoother, but then it would be further from resembling the length of the majority of spy flicks out there. As it stands, Spy is being marketed as a comedy, but it's just as much an action flick as it is a satire. When the film kicks into gear, bullets are flying, punches are thrown, and blood is shed. Things get rather violent, simply increasing the amount of fun that can be had. It breaks up some of the low points had in between jokes, and makes for the dangerous element mentioned previously.
While there are some newcomers, the director of Bridesmaids has brought back some familiar faces. Melissa McCarthy is an absolute riot as Susan Cooper. The character experiences a complete 180 degree turn in transitioning from a desk-bound office worker to an agent in the field, and McCarthy keeps us laughing through both characterizations. This is the best that she's been since Bridesmaids. Rose Byrne plays a stunning villain as the pretentious, yet brutal Rayna Boyanov. She clearly has a lot of fun with the role, and her personal touches greatly aid the character in contributing to the laughs. Additional supporting cast members include Jason Statham, Jude Law, and Allison Janney, who all turn in hilarious performances that perfectly fit within this satire.
Before the premiere started, writer/director Paul Feig took the stage to inform the audience that the film is still a work-in-progress. The story itself is apparently done, although he said that the color timing and music are still being tweaked. Even so, Spy looks great. He utilizes many of the visual mechanics that we've come to know from the genre, and enhances them with his own touch. Much of the physical humor incorporated within the action sequences work so well due to Feig's wonderful shots. It just shows how talented of a director he really is.
Spy marks the third collaboration between writer/director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy, and if this is any indication, we can only hope that they continue to work together. The pacing would be a bit smoother if it was edited down a bit, but it remains to be an absolute blast. The entire cast is infectious in their sense of humor, as the laugh-per-minute ratio is rather impressive. Feig has presented audiences with a ridiculously entertaining action comedy that understands all of the genre clichés, and knows how to use them. Spy is outrageously hilarious and undeniably entertaining. Highly recommended!
Spy played at SXSW Film Festival 2015 on March 15th.