I wasn't particularly amused by the film "Spy," which is Melissa McCarthy's attempt to work her way into the spy/action genre. I try to explain why in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, a transcription of which follows:
Of all the performing arts, comedy may be the most personal. I once sat through a screening of “Three Amigos” and listened to a guy sitting a few rows behind me nearly bust a gut laughing at every lame gag uttered by Steve Martin, Chevy Chase or Martin Short. For my part, I barely snickered once.
Meanwhile, the late film critic Bob Glatzer hated the Coen Brothers movie “Raising Arizona,” while I consider it comic genius. As I say, comedy – what makes us laugh – can be idiosyncratic to a fault.
Take “Spy,” for example, the latest comedy featuring the talents of Melissa McCarthy. “Spy” would seem to have everything going for it, especially for today’s cultural climate. It has McCarthy, still on a roll after breaking out of TV sitcom status by snaring an Oscar nomination in 2011 for “Bridesmaids.”
She’s backed by an impressive supporting cast, including Jude Law, Rose Byrne, the one and only Jason Statham and a surprisingly good British comic actress, Miranda Hart. And the plot by writer-director Paul Feig – the same guy who gave us “Bridesmaids” and the McCarthy 2013 follow-up with Sandra Bullock “The Heat” – follows a standard comic formula
A formula, by the way, that comic actors from Peter Sellers to Rowan Atkinson to Mike Myers have mined with a wide range of success. The twist here is that although she starts out as the sidekick, sort of a glorified Moneypenny, it’s McCarthy’s CIA character who emerges as the ultimate hero – which is what I meant by “Spy” seemingly being a perfect fit for today’s emerging cultural attitudes.
Feig’s film is another, and welcome, step in what has been a long road for women characters attempting to step into the forefront of movie action.
So what went wrong?
Part of the blame falls on McCarthy. For all her talents, she’s become – especially after roles in such films as “Identity Thief” and “Tammy” – something of a cliché: the overweight loser who ultimately wins the day, and our heart, because she – and we – haven’t dared, or taken the trouble, to look for her inner qualities. Even worse, for all her charm, McCarthy’s comic delivery already feels stale.
Yeah, it’s funny to watch her character crash a fancy, covered motor scooter during a moment of high action. But we’ve seen her do such pratfalls before.
Most of the blame, though, falls on Feig. His script moves fast, yes, but that makes it seems as if he has no faith in his gags. We’ve barely had time to digest a quip delivered by McCarthy, Byrne or – most humorously, Hart – before something, or someone, steps on the laughline. Furthermore, the range of four-letter words Feig employs in his script makes “Spy” sound like Richard Pryor attending a Tourette Syndrome convention.
No one is a fan of the F-word more than I. But the shock value of that word, even used in a variety of clever combinations, coming from Rose Byrne’s pretty mouth no longer has much comic punch.
Same for the movie “Spy” overall.