Melissa McCarthy stole the comedy Bridesmaids — which is saying something, given the film’s terrific comedy ensemble.
She thereafter briefly became the biggest thing in American comedy, before Louis CK came along, followed by Amy Schumer.
McCarthy earned the leading roles in Identity Thief, Tammy and The Heat, yet they didn’t serve her well. They made her comic extremities — particularly her improvised invective — the whole thing rather than just part of her persona.
DVD Letterbox, for one, found that particular McCarthy a little too much across the stretch of a feature film.
The new release Spy winds McCarthy back a notch and showcases her at her best. It is a very funny film, which should be no surprise because it is McCarthy’s third gig in rapid succession with writer and director Paul Feig.
Feig, who directed Bridesmaids and has reimagined Ghostbusters with three female leads (McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon), first ventured down Spy’s path with The Heat. That comedy teaming of McCarthy with Bullock was a parody of a 1980s buddy cop movie, starring two women — gasp! Spy is a parody of the James Bond spy thriller and it gets a lot more right than The Heat, which itself wasn’t bad.
It opens with a set piece in which the spy hero, Jude Law’s Bradley Fine, attempts to foil a criminal plot, all the while being guided through his earpiece by his loyal CIA desk jockey, McCarthy’s Susan.
Susan is the under-utilised agent lacking the confidence of the more glamorous ones in the field, until one thing leads to another and the wallflower is sent to Europe to crack the case, defuse the bomb and all the rest.
Her disguises are decidedly dowdy and condescending until she breaks the shackles and becomes, as anticipated, the super spy. Of course it is all rather unlikely, and all the more funny because of it.
But Spy’s great strength is that McCarthy is allowed to come across as a more approachable character. Sure, she’s volatile, profane and McCarthy, but Susan’s also anxious, vulnerable and intelligent. It’s the best version of Melissa McCarthy.
And she’s surrounded by a wonderful comedy cast including Rose Byrne as a Bulgarian crim, Peter Serafinowicz in another delightful “foreigner” cameo, Miranda Hart as the best buddy and Jason Statham as a wonderful parody of himself — made even more wonderful if you imagine he’s not in on the joke.
And the film has a casual feminism to it, with Susan breaking the shackles and all key roles being played by women (including a terrific Allison Janney) without Feig batting an eyelid.
Spy (MA15+, Fox, 130min, $29.99) is far more amusing, absurd (the vermin-infested CIA base is just batty), a little more violent and progressive than your standard Hollywood comedy. And McCarthy is not all of the reason for that, just a very big part of it.