For many years now I have approached movie “comedies” with an increasing degree of trepidation. I have seen too many of them without a single laugh. I admit, I worry that the fault (at least partly) might be my own. Have I lost my comedy mojo? I am pushing seventy, hard, and I realize these movies are not made for me or my generation. But in the end, I don’t think so. The problem seems to be that there has been a race toward the bottom, sort of like the Republican Party, and more and more movies are made for the dumbest of us, the mouth-breathing droolers who think no-holds-barred cage fighting is fun. Anyway, it is nice to report that a funny comedy comes along now and then. This is one.
The inimitable Melissa McCarthy is Susan Cooper, an operator for the CIA. And that’s an apt description. She doesn’t sit at a computer and guide drones to attack wedding parties in Afghanistan, but instead sits at a computer (in a Langley headquarters that is over-run with bats for some reason) and guides her partner, the handsome, dashing, but not-overly-bright Jude Law as he runs about doing his Bond imitation. It’s like a Pac-man game with living players. Jude confronts your standard evil billionaire in the basement of his mansion and demands the baddie tell him the location of the nuke he is selling. The baddie laughs, says that since I’m the only one who knows where the bomb is, you really can’t kill me, can you? And then … no, I won’t spoil it, but I laughed out loud, and this was the first scene in the movie. Bodes well, I figured.
And it just kept going. When Jude is killed, the boss, Allison Janney, reluctantly agrees to send Susan to monitor someone who could lead them to the killer. Susan is worried about going out in the field, but game. So does she get all the cool spy stuff James Bond gets? No, no Aston-Martin for her. Her identities are a series of housewives and other boring women, and her survival kit includes gadgets disguised as stool softeners and hemorrhoid creams. But she soldiers on. This is not the in-your-face sexual predator of Bridesmaids, but a rather timid, self-effacing McCarthy who reminded me a lot of Ricky Gervais. But she learns on the job. Amazingly, it just kept being good, including the end.
Her best friend, controller at first but later in the field, is the wonderful Miranda Hart, a tall, gawky, horse-faced Brit who we loved in Call the Midwife. But the show is almost stolen by, of all people, Jason Statham, that dour action-movie blockhead, who understands that the best way to play comedy of this type is to do it absolutely straight. He is the tough-as-nails (you won’t believe just how tough, and neither does anyone else) veteran agent who continually fucks up the simplest tasks with his macho bravado. Bottom line: The funniest movie I’ve seen in quite a while. I think we can count on a Spy 2 in the near future. Which doesn’t necessarily delight me.
TIP: Stick around for the credits. Behind the crawl of names is stuff from her next field assignments, her identities (for one, her profession is listed as “Sleep Coach”) and the silly spy stuff she takes into the field. And at the very, very end there’s a short scene that looks like an outtake or maybe an improvisation, where McCarthy manages to totally destroy Statham. I swear, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that dude so much as smile in a movie, and she reduces him to a helpless, giggling mess.