I did not want to see Spy for the same reason I skipped both Paul Blart movies. As biased as this sounds, the only comedic actor to successfully pull of the fat-person shtick is Chris Farley. From Saturday Night Live to Black Sheep, the man used a combination of heart and charisma to make him more than just another fat guy. He worked hard, no matter how obnoxious he had to get, and became a legend. After his passing, the vacuum was filled with half-hearted imitators who thought they could live up to his standards based solely on their body image. People like Kevin James can only dream of reaching such heights. The few actors to come close are Rebel Wilson and Will Sasso, who in a sketch from Mad TV called to attention the notion that being fat somehow makes you funny. The only actor I am still unsure of is Melissa McCarthy.
Spy is my first exposure to her style of comedy. Perhaps it would have been best to get acquainted with her past work to establish an understanding of her shtick. However, I believe going in cold may help this review and recommendation for those in a similar position. Did McCarthy rise as high as Farley or does she have a ways to go?
Being unfamiliar with her work it is hard to judge if Spy is good. I will admit to some funny moments that made me laugh. In that regard the film achieves its goal. At the same time, the level of humor is less than serviceable. Farley’s movies were not exactly highbrow either, but they at least had actual skill and talent behind the comedy.
McCarthy plays Susan, a CIA analysts partnered with veteran secret agent Fine, played by Jude Law. After information on the Agency’s entire spy network is compromised, Susan is sent into the field with minimal training to stop a terrorist plot by Rayna Boyanov, played by Rose Bryne.
The problem with the humor is the complete lack of set-ups and pay-offs. Like traditional plotting in storytelling, the best jokes begin with a set-up, followed by the pay-off with the punch line after some indeterminate about of time. The timing can be any length as long as you end with a proper pay-off. Here is a good example of a simple joke from Police Squad.
There are no real jokes in Spy and the humor is relegated exclusively to reactions, insults, and cheap gags where a corpse evacuates its bowels and McCarthy falls down. There is nothing clever, interesting, or well constructed, as if no one involved really cared about making even a decent effort. There are no set-ups and no pay-offs, exchanged for scenes of characters berating each other and their reactions. Either McCarthy did not care enough to come up with decent material or writer/director Paul Feig has no grasp of what makes good comedy.
There were some moments I feel require mention. Jason Statham plays a parody of himself as Rick Ford, a delusional agent who boasts to having a slew of extraordinary experiences, all of which are references to Crank and Transporter. Peter Serafinowicz in a minor role as agent Aldo sexually harasses McCarthy every time they are together. I am in no way condoning sexual harassment, but it made for some funny scenes. Miranda Hart as Susan’s awkward friend Nancy had a couple nice moments toward the end.
Like Entourage, recommending Spy is difficult because Melissa McCarthy has a well-established fan base. If you are a fan of something, even if it is stupid, do as you wish regardless of what some pretentious critic says. For everyone else, if the entire movie were about Jason Statham’s character, I would tell you to get a ticket. If you like elaborate insults and the reactions of those being insulted, look no further. A far better alternative if you want a good espionage comedy is the entire series of Archer. You can never go wrong with Archer. Ever.