Tony Fyler takes aim.
Melissa McCarthy frequently rocks.
There, I said it. I would say that she always rocks, but it’s been brought to my attention that she’s done a lot more than I thought she had, I’ve somehow managed to miss a lot of it, and apparently, some of it was rather less rock-worthy than anything in which I’ve seen her.
So - frequently. She frequently rocks.
Her latest movie, Spy, written by the usually steady Paul Feig of Bridesmaids and The Heat fame, is rocking movie theatres worldwide right now. So it’s depressing to have to report that for me, overall, it didn’t work.
Now, to be fair, very little of that is down to McCarthy. Whenever she’s on screen, and of course she’s on screen very much of the time, Spy remains watchable, and often funny. But there are a couple of flaws in the movie that make it, so far, my least favourite of her movies.
Firstly, at the risk of being drummed out of the UK, her British co-stars are mostly horrible in this movie. I have a confession to make here – I don’t get the Miranda Hart craze, or at least I don’t get people thinking she’s funny. In the handful of scenes of Call The Midwife I’ve inadvertently caught before breaking out in Jessica Raine cooties and projectile vomiting, she seems fine delivering the drama. But funny – no. Here, as the equally socially awkward friend of McCarthy’s Susan Cooper, she takes up oxygen and sucks the funny out of the film at a rate of knots that would be impressive if it were Ibsen or Dostoyevsky. But Spy is not a movie that can afford to have the funny blotted out of it in any number of scenes – it needs all the funny it can get, and McCarthy works her ass off to generate laughs. To have them wasted feels like a cinematic crime, and an error in judgment.
Which brings us to Jason Statham. In the world of Spy, McCarthy’s Cooper is the voice in the ear of super-spy Bradley Fine, Jude Law playing up to his bland, chiseled handsomeness and actually being one of just two notable Brit successes in the movie (look out for Peter Serafinowicz as Aldo the Italian agent for the other). Statham is given the role of taking self-parody beyond the point of fun, as a hard-headed, ultra-intense, sweary British agent (no-one explaining along the way why the CIA has so many British agents – Law, Statham and Hart in close proximity). He has one bit of comedy business – being a misogynist ass who continually gets in Cooper’s way – and by the fourth or fifth time he plays this single string, it’s moved beyond its initial fun point, slammed way into tedium and ripped its own nuts off to survive. A sudden U-turn at the very end feels forced to deliver a happily-ever-after that undermines even the character he does create.
That kind of U-turn is more of a problem in McCarthy’s own character though. Cooper begins her time in the movie as a timid, please-everyone, hurt-no-one character who’s been indoctrinated by her mother into giving up on her dreams of anything greater than being a doormat, somewhat similarly to her character in Tammy. Yes, her experience in the field should change her, mold her and bring her out of herself, but the fact that this happens pretty much in the space of one moment of peril, and that after that, she’s unrelentingly the foul-mouthed ass-kicker that audiences will recognize from The Heat feels way too sudden and way too permanent, leaving the viewer confused, and a little high and dry, despite McCarthy doing, if anything, better, more enjoyable work after that moment.
And finally there’s a pacing issue in Spy which hasn’t been particularly noticeable in the work of either McCarthy or Feig in recent years – the premise seems to take forever to set up, taking timid Susan Cooper from the basement at the CIA out into the field for her undercover assignment. There’s a sense that maybe this is setting the audience up for potential sequels, and in a way, it does parallel some of the longer Bond movies that way, establishing the scenario so clearly it squeaks before anyone we like goes into danger, but a tighter edit would have done the job just as effectively and with less in the way of elongated sequences that seem to go nowhere.
So – Spy’s a total shambles, then, in spite of the box office?
No, not at all. Bottom line, McCarthy could read a telephone book and I’d find it funny – she’s a natural seller of mood, be it dramatic or comedic, and as I said earlier, any scene she’s in, which is pretty much all of them, she rescues or elevates. It just feels as though, in this movie, she’s riding a comedy moped through quick-drying cement thrown at her by several co-stars, a less inspired script than was possible, and an edit of the movie that leaves the first third feeling languorous when it had no need to drag.
Go see Spy for McCarthy, for Alison Janney (who frankly can do no wrong, ever – I simply won’t hear it) as the CIA director, for Law, and for Serafinowicz as Italian agent Aldo, who’s surprisingly effective in delivering laughs up against McCarthy’s central performance. Go see it for the premise, and the hilarious end credits. And then look forward to McCarthy’s future work – did we mention Ghostbusters? – in the hope that Feig delivers her a tighter script, and that her co-stars serve that script, rather than auditioning for a mainstream US audience to love them.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk