**1/2 out of ****
Writer/director Paul Feig’s latest comedy, Spy, is what I expected it to be, but thankfully, not worse. I’m still fed up with comedies, which surpass the ninety-minute mark in a misplaced obligation to see through aspects of the movie that have nothing to do with making people laugh.
In this movie, Feig works with Melissa McCarthy again, but gives her the opportunity to show more range. I’ve always liked McCarthy, but ever since Bridesmaids escalated her fame, I’ve seen her being typecast as an obnoxious insult-queen to a tiresome degree. She gets the opportunity to revisit this shtick in Spy, but only when her timid character is forced to play a part, while doing her job.
As you could guess by the title, McCarthy is playing an undercover agent, continuing Feig’s overpraised reputation for grabbing genres – and subgenres - normally associated with men, and giving them a female twist. In Bridesmaids, it was the lowbrow filthy comedy revolving around a wedding. In The Heat, it was the buddy cop comedy. This time, it’s the seemingly incompetent and unglamorous spy sent on a glamorous mission, worthy of James Bond.
In my opinion, giving women movie projects that have been so worn-to-death by men isn’t an example of progress. It’s more like a lame hand-me-down. However, Feig’s projects tend to be quite funny and Spy has some pretty big laughs. McCarthy thankfully tones it down here and works well with her co-stars. Jude Law and Jason Statham play delusional spies convinced of their male superiority. Miranda Hart is a goofball CIA coworker envious of her friend's opportunity to go out into the field. Rose Byrne steals some scenes as the film’s bitchy villainess.
Feig knows how to make jokes, but as the online video series Every Frame a Painting points out, he is one of so many filmmakers lacking vision in the art of comedy filmmaking –and favors conventional studio aesthetics to keep the audience engaged. As a comedy-action movie, this one is no exception in the genre’s tendency to waste lots of time near the end with extended fights and chases, which wouldn’t be worthy of a good action movie - and jokes spliced-in, which aren’t worthy of the comedy that preceded.
Feig is still developing his all-female Ghostbusters remake with McCarthy in the cast. I expect the results of that project to be similar to this one: Lots of laughs, but not enough to forgive the film’s long uninspired structure, which drags the entire experience into mediocrity.