Wednesday, June 17, 2015
You kinda have to hand it to Paul Feig, the writer/director of "Spy." Feig is 52 years old and initially made a name for himself as the creator of the cult classic TV show "Freaks and Geeks." Creating "Freaks and Geeks," one of the greatest TV shows ever made EVEN if it only had 18 episodes, means I could never have any ill-will towards Feig through the rest of his career. And despite a bumpy start to his feature film career (his first two films, "I Am David" and "Unaccompanied Minors" were both critical and financial flops), he's enjoyed a career resurgence that does not appear to be letting up anytime soon.
It's hard for filmmakers these days to churn out hits, even harder to make those hit movies get critical respect. Feig achieved that gold with "Bridesmaids," which was produced by Judd Apatow and written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (the latter of whom co-wrote David O. Russell's upcoming film "Joy," fyi). That film began a fruitful relationship between Feig and co-star Melissa McCarthy, who stole the show in "Bridesmaids" and even managed an Oscar nomination out of the ordeal.
Since then, while McCarthy has continued to find success as a bonafide movie star, Paul Feig appears to be the only filmmaker who knows how to use her correctly. He knows he can't just put her in contrived situations to wring out as much physical comedy as possible. He actually grounds her characters in reality, gives them an emotional center, while still allowing McCarthy to display her natural on-screen talent. Quite simply, Feig brings out the best in McCarthy and McCarthy probably brings out the best in him.
"Spy" marks the first film since "I Am David" where Paul Feig directed a movie based on his own script. It's a little surprising he doesn't write his own scripts more often because that's really where his strengths lie in this film. "Spy" starts out by establishing the relationship dynamics between Susan Cooper (McCarthy) and a very Bond-like Bradley Fine (Jude Law). While the film's opener has Fine roaming down hallways, shooting down bad guys, the film's emphasis is more on the back-and-forth between him and Cooper.
Cooper is at the CIA Control Center watching over Fine and giving him proper heads up whenever someone is coming after him. They are a perfect team. But more than that, it's made pretty clear that Susan Cooper has some major feelings for him and Fine just looks at her as nothing more than a helpful guide/good friend/co-worker. Clearly establishing the relationships between each of the film's characters and allowing them to grow and be funny is what makes "Spy" so watchable. So when Fine accidentally shoots a bad guy while sneezing, a guy who was about to give him important information, you don't see it coming because you're actually invested in the characters/situation.
And as you're probably aware, at some point Susan Cooper is forced to become an on-field agent herself. Donning several different disguises and attempting to get some intel on some bad characters. Every move she makes is constantly being undermined by Agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) who shows little respect for the work Cooper does. There are several moments where "Spy" really feels like a Jason Statham showcase - which is a good thing - but instead of showing us his skills as an action star, he actually demonstrates how his talents as a comedic performer.
So, yes, these are fun characters to watch and root for. Even the villains who are played by Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale have their fair share of good moments. But, the movie never really rises above typical spy movie plot points, which is kind of disappointing. And while Paul Feig seems to handle the action elements well enough, he's never really been a director who can demonstrate stylistic flare. "Spy" is just a bit too bland to be the slick spy comedy that it wants to be and I think the reason is because Feig treats the action moments in too much of a straight-forward manner. There are some highlights - like the fight scene that takes place inside a kitchen - but mostly, the action is never really played out for laughs. It's the moments between the action sequences, or a line here or there, that brings out the comedy, but certainly Paul Feig could have done more with these situations.
Ultimately, "Spy" kind of runs out of steam by the end. It has plenty of funny scenes and some cute scenes, but the "cute" scenes wear a bit thin after the 90-minute mark. Like, a scene featuring 50 Cent (as himself) getting run down by a CIA Agent (Miranda Hart) is not laugh-out-loud funny, but it's... cute. Then later, there's a second 50 Cent cameo that just runs that joke into the ground. Not so cute.
"Spy" just runs a little too long. It's 120 minutes, which is a pretty average runtime, but for a comedy that has a rather thin premise... you eventually start to feel the weight of those 2 hours. Shave this down to 105 minutes and this could've really fired on all cylinders. As it is, "Spy" is a pretty solid comedy that, by the end, just wears out its welcome a little too much.