The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



It's exciting that the biggest comedy star in the country right now is a woman. Women have long been fighting the lame misconception (perpetuated by people like Jerry Lewis and Adam Carolla) that they aren't as funny as men. I could easily name at least a dozen hysterically funny women working in entertainment right off the top of my head, and you probably could too. Movie comedies have historically centered on men much more, except when it comes to rom-coms. It's nice to see a little bit of gender equality. Melissa McCarthy has earned every drop of her massive success, not only for being funny, but also for her ability to create interesting, identifiable characters. She succeeds once again with Spy, a frequently uproarious riff on international espionage thrillers.

McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst who sits in front of computer monitors in a dingy basement, guiding field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) through all kinds of dangerous, exotic adventures. The mild-mannered Susan is also secretly in love with him. When a mission to locate a nuclear bomb goes radically wrong, compromising the integrity of all their top agents, the CIA decides to send in someone unknown. Susan gets chosen for the job. She soon finds herself trotting around the globe, keeping tabs on Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), the woman who is helping orchestrate the sale of that bomb to a terrorist. Jason Statham plays Rick Ford, a tough-as-nails rogue agent who repeatedly (and chauvinistically) tries to take over Susan's mission.

This is a great part for McCarthy because she gets to play smaller roles within the big role. Susan is initially very unassuming, almost to the point of being invisible. When she goes undercover, she's initially asked to assume the timid, weak personas of a “crazy cat lady” and a lonely divorcee. Later, to prevent Rayna from discovering her true job, she has to pretend to be confident and badass. Several times throughout Spy, Susan has to reinvent herself, which allows McCarthy to do a wide range of things comedically. She runs the gamut of personality types, making each one uniquely funny. If you want proof of why the actress is so popular, it's all right here.

Perhaps the wittiest joke in Spy is also one of its most subtle: Statham – hilariously riffing on the outrageousness of his Transporter and Crank pictures – sees almost no action, while McCarthy sees plenty. (Statham earns big, big laughs simply by playing his entire role as straight as he does in his own starring vehicles. More comedy for him, please.) That subtle subversion of expectations is made even better by writer/director Paul Feig's decision to stage the action just as intensely as in any male-driven picture. Spy does not water things down in that department. McCarthy pulls it off believably, making you buy into Susan as both desk jockey and competent secret agent.

The supporting actors ably back up their star. British comedienne Miranda Hart makes a big impression as Susan's equally-mousy friend/co-worker, and Jude Law has a grand old time sending up the suave James Bond image. Rose Byrne, meanwhile, is hilarious doing a witty riff on the femme fatale stereotype; she gives Rayna more than a hint of mean-spirited stupidity. Allison Janney is here, too, playing a no-nonsense CIA official with little tolerance for Susan's insecurities.

Of course, spoofs of secret agent movies are nothing new. There have been plenty over the years - some great, some not. Spy doesn't find anything particularly different to do, so you certainly won't walk out feeling that you've seen something extraordinarily original. Nonetheless, Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) has written a script filled with sharp dialogue and plenty of clever predicaments for Susan to find herself stuck in. Spy additionally brings together a lot of funny people who operate on the same comedic wavelength. It all amounts to a two-hour blast of fun that cements Melissa McCarthy's status as a Comedy Master.

( out of four)

Spy is rated R for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity. The running time is 2 hours.

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