I've always loved James Bond movies, especially the older ones like Thunderball and From Russia With Love. But these days, when I go back to watch Sean Connery swigging martinis while saving the free world, I can't help but notice how sexist they read. I wouldn't say the outdated sexual attitudes ruin the experience, exactly, but it definitely pulls me out of the action for a moment. Maybe that's why I have a soft spot for George Lazenby's sole effort, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, where Bond actually falls in love with Diana Rigg instead of bedding women seemingly out of spite.
Melissa McCarthy's new comedy vehicle takes dead aim at spy game sexism. Written and directed by Paul Feig, Spy is likely to satisfy McCarthy's growing legion of fans and points the way to a bright future for the breakout star of Bridesmaids. McCarthy is Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst who spends her days in the high-tech basement of Langley whispering advice and intelligence into the satellite-linked earpiece of agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law). But when Fine is killed in a mission to track down a loose nuke, Susan is sent into the field to track down his murderer Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) and retrieve the weapon before terrorists can get ahold of it.
No one takes Susan seriously, even though she's clearly very skilled. Wringing comedy out of people misjudging her because of her sex or looks is like hitting softballs to McCarthy. Feig understands what kind of movie he's making and keeps her, and her point of view, dead center for the entire story. McCarthy has plenty of people to bounce jokes off of: There's Law, who is his usual impeccable self; Miranda Hart as Nancy, a fellow analyst who is Susan's frumpy confidante; and Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz), a lecherous Italian agent. But surprisingly, McCarthy's best sparring partner is Jason Statham as Rick Ford, a rogue agent miffed that the fat girl got the important assignment instead of him. Statham demonstrates masterful comic timing while sending up the kind of hypermasculine roles he usually gets cast in, suggesting there's a lot more to him than Hollywood has been able to find a use for.
Spy is often funny, but it is not a well-oiled machine. The movie starts slow, only kicking into gear once McCarthy and Statham start trading barbs at about the half hour mark. Scenes run on way too long, as Feig was seemingly determined to keep every one of McCarthy's remotely funny improvs in the final cut. There are way too many characters, many of whom seem to think they're much funnier than they actually are. The plot is loose to the point of incoherence — I kept forgetting what the McGuffin was until the late third act reveal of the missing atom bomb made me go "Oh yeah."
But McCarthy overcomes all of that, making the sloppy film watchable by sheer force of charisma alone. She can pack more emotion into an exasperated eye roll than most actresses can into an extended speech. I hope one of these days someone will write a Groundhog Day-level script for McCarthy, and she'll finally get to create the classic her talent promises. But until then, Spy is a pretty agreeable time at the theater.