by ALEX CARNEVALE
dir. Paul Feig
I am trying to think of the exact point that Paul Feig’s Spy becomes just plain mean-spirited. It is probably about the forty-first or forty-second time someone comments on Melissa McCarthy’s appearance in a negative way. The sentence most often uttered in Spy is, “You look like…” with the ending of the statement finishing with a derogatory comment such as “a hairless squirrel” or “a diseased cauliflower.” This is a form of comedy so lazy it was mocked in a forum as discerning as Hot Tub Machine 2.
McCarthy is an office drone in the Central Intelligence Agency, working behind the scenes in order to navigate agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) through what appears to be a Los Angeles pool party with terrible production values. I understand Spy is a spoof, but all the agents, including a barely understandable Jason Statham, are British with accents intact, making the entire setup impossible to take seriously, even in a fun way.
In addition, the only real spoofing going on is one scene where Michael McDonald plays a parody of Q who rigs up various bathroom products — stool softener, hemorrhoid cream, rape whistle — for McCarthy to sue as weapons. The rest of the time Spy is basically just a fish-out-of-water comedy. It’s like Paul Feig ran out of things that would even be entertaining to spoof and just decided to throw in some explosions and one-liners about how anyone even slightly overweight should be alone with cats.
Now that Melissa is a star, every role she takes has to be focused on her apparent lack of beauty. This is entirely ridiculous to anyone who has eyes, and insulting to the vast majority of human beings who don’t look nearly as good. Spy has her weirdly drooling all over Jude Law, and movie is barely minutes old before McCarthy is dropping puns about sucking his penis. Law is several decades past his prime, has a hairline that resembles the tines of a comb, and what amounts to his gross, sexist banter consists of asking her to pick up his laundry, a task many people, male and female, perform without humiliation.
It turns out that McCarthy’s character is an exceptionally talented agent, and the best parts of Spy consists of seeing her perform various stunts and fights. In 2013’s The Heat, the disastrous script Feig directed had one virtue: it made her the living center of an Irish family that both loved and detested what she was. Here Melissa is presented as a lonely woman of 40 with no romantic prospects or social life. Even as a caricature, it is a depressing and sexist one.
What happened to Paul Feig? He used to actually be interested in material with emotional and comedic weight. Spy is the kind of tonal disaster that should make you evaluate your deepest life priorities : the biggest laugh the movie got in my theater was when a bunch of agents accidentally viewed photos of a man’s penis. Formerly talented writer-directors like Joss Whedon, Brad Bird and now Feig working on these humorless summer vehicles is a tremendous loss for us all. At least people went to see the absolute stinker (an army of robots?) that was The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
This year’s other James Bond parody as least knew its source material. Kingsman: The Secret Service was pretty much a mess as well, but it was so obviously having a good time: Colin Firth and Michael Caine practically held the movie up by sheer force of will and finely tailored suits. Spy looks like it was filmed with a third of the budget. Samuel L. Jackson may have been a bit much in Kingsman, but at least he was somebody: Spy‘s main baddies are Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale.
Even more puzzling were Spy’s pathetically pandering reviews. Apparently when comedy based mostly around inserting various words for human genitalia in unlikely places in verbal speech originates from men, it’s demeaning. (This much we know is true.) When a woman utters the same lame bullying verbal invective, Paul Feig emits a chuckle and tells other people it’s okay to laugh. I hope everyone involved in this pandering dreck never works again.
Spy runs out of Steam about halfway through after McCarthy’s husband’s wretched cameo. The rest of the film turns into a bunch of people standing in a circle threatening to kill each other. Listening to their fake, quasi-humorous banter made me want to take one of their firearms and turn it on myself.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.