Movie Comedy feels like it's in a wierd place at the moment. It's easy to look back and claim it's worse now, mostly because most of the unfunny dross of earlier ages are easily forgotten, but at the same time I rarely see a trailer for a big-budget comedy and even crack a smile. There are some great comedy movies coming from various animation houses, where every joke has to be carefully crafted years in advance, the dominant live action form seems to be the matey, semi-improvisational form that really doesn't work for me. Oddly, what has worked for me is the Paul Feig/Melissa McCarthy combination, from Bridesmaids, to The Heat, and now Spy.
Now, I admit these films - succesful as they are - have also provoked some intense dislike in some quarters, and there is a pre-emptive backlash against the upcomming Ghostbusters that isn't all coming from crazy headbangers who don't want women in their treehouse. There is a definate register to all three of these films that fits McCarthy as an actor really well, but the balance of laughing at and laughing with is different for everyone. It works for me, and thats what matters when I stick a DVD in.
So Spy finds McCarthy playing a CIA analyst who acts as the "handler" for suave superspy Jude Law, feeding him data and intel on his missions up until one goes tragically (and predictibly) wrong. With the agency badly burned, she is forced to go into the field herself, despite oppostion from within and dangers without. Shenanigans, etc, ensue. What we have therefore is yet another movie that wants to send up and comment on the Bond/Bourne paradigm, and yet also pay homage to it, and I was instantly set to thinking about Kingsman, which never quite manages to make those impulses meet in the middle. It's especially stark when you consider they share the same closing gag - but with a female lead (and generally a lot more women in the cast) it doesn't clang and grate as a final note.
Critically, Spy is funny. I'm not totally convinced Miranda Hart fits in smoothly, but has a scene stealing turn from Jason Statham, sending himself up with a great performance I'd never have though he had in him. Rose Byrne makes a great central villian, and forges the sort of rapport with McCarthy that makes we want to see a sequel that forces them to team up, and McCarthy is, I think, never better, nor given more range to work with.
As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed it - more so than the more patchy The Heat, for instance, and a more focused story than Bridesmaids losely structured sketches. I found it a lot of fun, I laughed a lot and it's got heart, too, treating all it's characters with dignity even when it's putting them through the wringer. Along the way it adds in some solid action set-pieces, Bond-ian globetrotting and some attrocious accents. Bring on Ghostbusters.