SXSW 2015: The Spy Who Zinged Me

By  · Published on March 16th, 2015

20th Century Fox

Over the course of her career, Melissa McCarthy has proven herself to be more than funny. Whether its on the surprisingly charming Mike & Molly or in her numerous scene-stealing supporting roles. If placed in a room full of people, the likelihood that she’d be the funniest person in the room is very high. But there’s something special that happens when she works with writer/director Paul Feig. There’s a little added magic and I believe that I may have figured out what it is: Feig is brilliant at writing the perfect characters to surround McCarthy’s wild energy. It’s not so much about him helping her find her own comedic voice – she needs no help in that regard – it’s about finding the right supporting players.

This is absolutely the case with Spy, a Get Smart-ish sendup of the stylish International Man of Mystery genre infused with some vibrant girl power. Oh, and Jason Statham. Full-force Jason Statham.

McCarthy plays a CIA analyst who has spent years being the support system for a devilishly handsome spy played by Jude Law. When something terrible happens at the hand of a tricky bad-lady (the always fun Rose Byrne), McCarthy’s Susan Cooper is forced to go out in the field and live the dream of being a bonafide agent. Shenanigans ensue.

As was the case with their most famous collaboration Bridesmaids, Feig’s script is incredibly punchy. It includes a seemingly infinite array of zingers. Which is great in the moment – it played incredibly well with an energized film festival crowd. The only problem is that this sort of thing might wear off after multiple viewings, especially with a story that’s a very run-of-the-mill spy tale. That doesn’t preclude it from being a lot of fun the first time around, but even upon initial inspection its easy to see how this movie might not be quite as fun once you’ve watched it a few times on cable.

Still, there’s plenty that make Spy worthwhile. Including, but not limited to its profoundly funny supporting cast. Rose Byrne holds her own well in several vulgar, mean-spirited moments alongside McCarthy. Lauded British comedienne Miranda Hart is a lot of fun as McCarthy’s awkward best friend and fellow CIA office worker. And Peter Serafinowicz shows up as a particularly handsy Italian agent.

Then there’s Jason Statham. If there was ever any doubt as to whether or not Mr. Statham has a sense of humor about himself, this movie will stand as proof that he absolutely does. His character is the super spy ID personified and his over-the-top machismo works so perfectly in conjunction with McCarthy’s wit. No one had reason to expect that Tammy and the Transporter would have such wonderful onscreen chemistry, but they absolutely do.

Spy seems to be one of those films that won’t play quite so well outside the bubble of an excited film festival, but in its moment with the BBQ-filled audiences of SXSW, it was certainly a winner. The one thing that won’t fade as it moves toward its summer release: it has good energy, delivers of fun moments and it brings together an unexpectedly wonderful comedic duo: McCarthy and Statham.

Perhaps most importantly, Spy also exists as proof that Paul Feig is more than just a punchy screenwriter who, as a director, is good at capturing pratfalls. Between this and his previous work on The Heat, he’s developed a fluid, energetic visual style. This bodes well for his future – he is writing the next Ghostbusters movie, after all. And while that’s not necessarily big action, it could do well to be a ball of energy.

If we take Spy for what it is – a fun diversion on the way to what big things Feig and McCarthy will do next – it works very well. At least once.

The Upside: Good energy, very punchy humor with fun performances from McCarthy and her supporting players.

The Downside: Fairly run-of-the-mill story and an expected lack of any real lasting impact beyond the first viewing.

On the Side: Spy hits theaters on June 5, 2015.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the upcoming One Perfect Shot TV show (HBO Max, 2021) and the co-host of The Storm: A LOST Rewatch podcast. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)