It’s taken Hollywood a while to figure out what to do with Melissa McCarthy. Maybe that’s because of sexism or maybe it’s just old-fashioned cluelessness, which, come to think of it, may amount to the same thing. Either way, the answer’s been obvious all along: Put the woman in any damn thing she pleases. She’s that good. Since the riff-happy whirling dervish broke out in 2011’s Bridesmaids, she’s been in some good movies and some less-good ones. But she’s always stood out in a sea of cinematic sameness. McCarthy’s mind just seems to race in a faster gear than her costars, allowing her to blast off arias of profane put-downs with such speed and demented originality that her mouth practically shoots sparks. As a physical comedian, she possesses the greatest gift of all: She’s totally unafraid of looking stupid.
McCarthy’s latest film, Spy, reunites the actress with her patron saint Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat), and the duo has finally come up with a role that feels richer than a sketch-comedy premise. McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, an unassuming, unassertive CIA desk jockey who, from a rat-infested basement deep in the bowels of Langley, guides the agency’s top spies on their license-to-kill missions via an earpiece. One of these suave American 007s is played by Jude Law, who despite his flair with a pistol and a glass of pinot noir is oblivious to the fact that Cooper harbors a not-so-secret crush on him. Then, during an assignment to take out a Bulgarian villain with a rogue nuke, he’s killed. And the bad guy’s sneeringly bitchy daughter, Rayna (Rose Byrne, quickly becoming comedy’s most valuable foil), claims to know the identities of all of the CIA’s covert spies, including a blowhard played by Jason Statham, who has a blast skewering his Cockney tough-guy persona. To cut to the chase, the agency needs an unknown operative to take down Rayna. Enter McCarthy in a parade of dumpy disguises and homely cat-lady wigs.
Cooper turns out to be deceptively lethal in the field, not only kicking Euro goon ass, but barking so many hilarious insults—the best of which are far too filthy to print—you’ll wonder how many were in Feig’s script and how many McCarthy’s dizzyingly dirty mind hatched on the spot, especially during her venomous verbal cutting contests with Byrne and her scenes with an insatiably horny Italian agent (Peter Serafinowicz). Still, Spy isn’t without a few rough spots. The recurring 50 Cent cameo isn’t as funny as the movie seems to think it is. The frantic pace of the film’s first half goes a little slack in the second as it gets more action-centric (not exactly Feig’s specialty). And while I get that part of McCarthy’s shtick is beating others to the punch of how she’s not what a typical leading lady looks like, I’m beginning to wish she didn’t feel the need to any more. With the run she’s been on, she’s earned that much. Honestly, though, she can do whatever she wants at this point. Just as long as she works as much as possible. After all, who else is going to show the boys how it’s done? B+