‘Spy’: Hilarious genre spoof features female empowerment

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For Digital First Media

Epitomized by Sean Connery and his successors in the iconic role of James Bond, screen spies have typically been played by suave, dashing men. Can you imagine Melissa McCarthy pressed into duty as a C.I.A. field agent? That is the central conceit of the new parody, “Spy.”

As the film kicks off, Susan Cooper (McCarthy) is a desk-bound C.I.A. agent. She never ventures far from the basement of agency headquarters in Langley.

In an opening scene, we witness the exquisite synergy between Cooper and tuxedo-clad field agent, Bradley Fine (Jude Law). As Fine is dispatched on perilous, international assignments, Cooper monitors him on video surveillance equipment. She’s in Fine’s hidden earpiece, warning him about unseen risks potentially lurking around every corner.

Of course, Cooper is quite smitten with her handsome cohort. Fine is genuinely appreciative of Cooper’s hyper-efficient contributions to his successful ventures. However, it never occurs to him that there could be any romantic connection with her.

Instead, Fine routinely relegates Cooper to discharging menial tasks for him. This includes the unpleasant duty of firing the Latino gardener, Jaime (Jamie Pacheco), for inadvertently breaking the sprinkler heads with his lawn mower. Instead of firing Jaime, the soft-hearted Cooper simply mows the lawn on Jaime’s behalf so that he can keep his job.

Bulgarian arms dealer, Tihomir Boyanov (Raad Rawi), has acquired a nuclear bomb and plans to sell it to the highest bidder. Fine tracks down Boyanov to his subterranean lair. At gunpoint, Fine demands that Boyanov disclose the location of the tactical armament. Unfortunately, Fine is sensitive to airborne allergens. When Fine sneezes, his gun fires, leaving Boyanov with a bullet hole to the head. Whoops!

This photo provided by Twentieth Century Fox shows, Melissa McCarthy, left, facing off against a knife-wielding adversary, Nargis Fakhri, in a scene from the film, "Spy." (Larry Horricks/Twentieth Century Fox via AP)

This photo provided by Twentieth Century Fox shows, Melissa McCarthy, left, facing off against a knife-wielding adversary, Nargis Fakhri, in a scene from the film, “Spy.” (Larry Horricks/Twentieth Century Fox via AP)

The decedent’s daughter, Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), avenges her father by shooting Fine as Cooper looks on helplessly.

Following a memorial service for Fine, C.I.A. Deputy Director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) needs to formulate a plan to recover the nuclear bomb, which has now fallen into the hands of Rayna Boyanov. Hard-charging C.I.A. agent, Rick Ford (Jason Statham), demands that he should draw the assignment. However, Crocker insists that Rayna would recognize him.

Cooper pipes up that she is willing to assume the role of a field agent. Ford scoffs at the notion, heaping scorn on Cooper and dismissively referring to her as a, “lunch lady.” When Crocker reluctantly taps Cooper for the job, the indignant Ford quits the C.I.A. in a huff. Cooper assumes that she will be given some glamorous undercover identity. Instead, Cooper receives a dowdy disguise that causes her to cavil, “I look like someone’s homophobic aunt.”

Lampooning the high tech equipment that Q gives to a series of 007s, Cooper instead receives a dog whistle, stool softener, and hemorrhoid patches.

Off Cooper goes on assignment, gallivanting though Rome, Paris, and Budapest. How will she fare in her new role? After disastrous outings in “Identity Thief” and “Tammy,” this film represents a nice career bounce back vehicle for McCarthy. Here, she is reunited with writer/director, Paul Feig (creator of television’s “Freaks & Geeks”). The latter extracted the best from McCarthy in her Oscar-nominated breakthrough role in “Bridesmaids,” and “The Heat,” her subsequent collaboration with Sandra Bullock. Once again, Feig and McCarthy evidence a propitious working relationship. Feig also contributes a gleeful screenplay, which reflects his appreciation for tropes of the spy genre and for feminist gender politics.

McCarthy is the film’s protagonist. However, it is Statham and Byrne, who steal the film with their inspired supporting performances. The dour Statham is a caricature of the uber macho action hero that he has portrayed in, “The Transporter” and “The Expendables” franchises. At one juncture in the film, he delineates some of his derring-do accomplishments. His character brags that when one of his arms was ripped off, he sewed it back on with his other hand. Statham’s intermittent verbal confrontations with McCarthy are a hoot.

Coiffed in a beehive hairdo and exuding alpha bitch haughtiness, Byrne adopts a subdued demeanor. Her line readings are nothing short of brilliant. She coos insults at Cooper with disarming derision.

“Spy” is a hilarious spoof of the genre, which features a subtext of female empowerment.

***1/2 R (for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity) 120 minutes. Twentieth Century Fox

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

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