The spy movie parody is a concept that should have died around the time “Get Smart” was cancelled back in 1970. There’s nothing more that needs be said about the genre. How many times can an audience watch a silly variation on that scene where a Q surrogate shows off various fabulous, contraptulous, spy gadgetry to a Bond stand-in? How many more laughs can we wring out of the sight of an out of shape comedian unconvincingly going through the gritty, fight choreography of the Jason Bourne movies? At this point, spy movies are like a spent condom that’s been lying in the middle of the sidewalk for days: we know it’s there and it’s no longer funny, so let’s just keep moving and mention it to no one.
Luckily, “Spy” isn’t a genre movie parody. Like “The Venture Brothers” or “Archer,” it takes a fantastical premise and drags it down to a more mundane level. “Spy” isn’t a 007 spoof. It’s more like a satirical swipe at gender politics and sexism under the guise of a spy movie parody.
In “Spy,” Melissa McCarthy plays Susan Cooper a talented and technically capable secret agent who’s reduced to guiding a vapid Bond-alike (Jude Law) through his missions from the dreary confines of the bat infested basement of the CIA. Even though Law’s character treats her with a sort of cheery condescension (he just assumes she owns multiple cats), Susan is shattered when Law is murdered by the bratty daughter (Rose Byrne) of a Blofeld-ish supervillain who, apparently, knows the identity of every high ranking CIA agent as well as the location of a nuclear warhead. With revenge on her mind, Susan somehow manages to convince the CIA to send her into the field even though she’ll be doing it under the depressing guise of a crazy cat lady who, according to Susan, “looks like she’s never known the touch of a man.”
Lacking the loose, improvisatory energy of director Paul Feig’s and McCarthy’s previous effort “The Heat” as well as the charged, go-for-broke comic performance McCarthy gave in that film (although glimmers of that bizarre, foul-mouthed character appear all too briefly in “Spy’s” third act), “Spy” still remains a smart and very surprising comedy that consistently upends genre expectations. A refreshing feminist streak runs throughout the film as it presents its marginalized, unappreciated female characters as far more far adept than its cast of bumbling males who are depicted as nearly-incompetent (Law), predatory in a strangely cuddly way (Peter Serafinowics) or possibly mentally-ill (Jason Statham doing a sort of intense Leslie Nielsen-esque spin on his action hero persona).
But gender politics aside, “Spy” is also filled with subtle absurdity such as the fact that Susan’s spy gadgets are made to resemble embarrassing household objects like stool softener, hemorrhoid cream and a “Beaches” wristwatch. Additionally, Statham’s character goes on prolonged, possibly fabricated rants about previous missions such as the time he went undercover in an underground poison ingesting ring or drove a car on top of a truck while he was on fire. And much like “The Heat”, “Spy” has an endless succession of quotable lines like, “Hey guys, there’s a mouse on my tits,” “You’re funny, It’s the Bulgarian clown in you” and “I know you’re under a lot of stress so please refrain from using the word Thundercunt” Unlike the Austin Powers series, “Spy” is smart/stupid comedy done right.
The only real complaint I have about “Spy” is that it takes the film well over an hour to give us a scene in which McCarthy unloads on someone with a series of profanely surreal insults. Granted, I can understand why McCarthy would want to dole out this schtick a little more conservatively nowadays (contrary to popular belief, she doesn’t simply replay the same character in everything she does), but I also shouldn’t be waiting for 90 minutes just to hear her call someone a bag of dicks, either.