Why “Spy” is a Smartest Stupidiest Comedy That You’ll See All Summer

By reteaming with her director from “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat,” McCarthy scores for the third time as a CIA agent who blossoms (with a lot of laughs) on her first field assignment with a little help from her friends and enemies.

In one of the more expected moments Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) tries to get her man but gets oh-so stuck in cement in "Spy."

In one of the more expected moments Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) tries to get her man but gets oh-so stuck in cement in “Spy.”

As someone who had to push past Hollywood’s unbelievable standards of success, much less beauty, against all odds, Melissa McCarthy has managed built a big-screen career out of characters whom others foolishly underestimate, and in her latest role of CIA agent Susan Cooper in “Spy” proves very little has changed.

“Spy,” represents McCarthy’s latest team-up with director Paul Feig (who also wrote the script), and it manages to take the actress’ particular set of skills to its broadest canvas yet, allowing her to globe-trot from the states to Paris to Rome to Budapest as an agent who surprises not just those around her but also herself with her adeptness in the field, which puts her physical prowess with her ability to adapt to any ridiculous situation on high alert.

Here’s the Backstory You’ll Need to Know, But Not Really

In the very first scene, Susan Cooper, who is a ten-year vet at the agency, has been content to languish in the rodent-infested basement at Langley, where she’s been the eyes and ears (and deep down inside swoons over) of Bradley Fine (Jude Law), a suave super-spy who Britishness comes in and out throughout every scene he’s in, as he blithely shoots and quips his way through dangerous situations, only thanks to Susan’s guidance via-the CIA’s super satellites.

When arms dealer Rayna (a delectably bitchy Rose Byrne, who literally steals ever scene she’s in) reveals she knows the identities of all the CIA’s top agents in the field, it is then left our poor Susan who apparently is the only one who is “unknown” enough who can track down the woman who’s intent on selling a rogue nuke to the nefarious crime boss DeLuca (Bobby Cannavale, who is Byrne’s real life boyfriend if anyone cares, plays the role like he’s in a Goodfellas spoof from the 90’s). But despite her skill with a headset and a computer screen, Susan still gets zero at Langley; her deadpan boss (Allison Janney, playing the tough talking straight-laced woman to the hilt here) gives her a series of frumpy undercover identities (“I look like someone’s homophobic aunt,” laments Susan), and even her cool spy gadgets are disguised to look like stool softener, toe-fungus spray and hemorrhoid wipes. Susan’s orders are to track and report at a distance, but of course she winds up a little too getting up close and personal with Rayna. (Would there be a plot the movie if she didn’t?) Their relationship consists of them taking turns being nastily dismissive of each other, and McCarthy and Byrne’s scenes together are cruelly hilarious, with the kind of no-holds-barred insult humor that makes you instinctively drop your jaw and cover your mouth at the same time laugh out loud.

McCarthy's "Agent Cooper" and Byrne's arms dealer "Rayna" are a double crossing duo that become a surprising highlight of "Spy."

McCarthy’s “Agent Cooper” and Byrne’s arms dealer “Rayna” are a double crossing duo that become a surprising highlight of “Spy.”

Credit must be given to Feig who takes the spy story just seriously enough to keep us engaged (although he could probably have put Susan onto the playing field five or ten minutes earlier in his script) while also giving McCarthy a surprisingly high number of sharp comic foils you’d never expect to be foils. Besides Byrne and Janney, she also gets to play off Jason Statham (as a fellow spy Ford who refuses to take her seriously — to Susan’s credit, she never backs down from his bullying, even at most occasions he’s doing it because he too eager to take the lead), Miranda Hart (who steals every scene she’s in by playing one of Susan’s snarky CIA coworkers in the basement who in essence becomes he eyes and ears in the same way Susan was to Law’s character), and Peter Serafinowicz (as handsy Italian agent Aldo, whom were not exactly sure if he’s really one of the good guys or it’s all just an act). These roles also make me think that we are supposed to believe that quite a number of CIA agents are apparently foreigners. “Spy” is thankfully freed from the PG-13 shackles of most straightforward spy movies, the movie actually offers up more blood and vivid violence than the genre it’s tweaking, but credit again must be given to the deft handling of that so it’s never enough violence gets in the way of the actual comedy. If anything, the occasional mayhem reminds us of the danger Susan’s putting herself in while also underscoring how ridiculously over the top many of “Spy’s” contemporary espionage dramas whose intention is to spoof have actually become.

Here’s the Bottom Line

“Spy” would be a true standout if only for its ability to keep me laughing while also keeping me from figuring out who was really double-crossing whom. Add to that this extraordinary ensemble of actors (wow, who knew Statham could be this funny while sending up the version of himself he tends to play in his other movies?), and you’ve got another memorable offering from McCarthy and Feig. Underestimate them at your peril people! I know I sure won’t in the future. As a distaff version of James Bond in “Spy,” Hollywood’s reigning empress of ha-ha McCarthy has a license not just to kill the audience with laughter but also to slay us with her acting chops. And it’s a bust-a-gut thing of beauty to watch her give a wholly satisfying lead performance with a complete dramatic arc. All you have to do is observe how her eyes dramatically moisten in reaction to her top-notch co-stars in ways that would make any silent screen movie star proud. That’s even if her lips are spewing a scathing string of inappropriate R-rated putdowns, which I actually did love most of the time.  Like when she tells a stunned Swedish henchman to cut off his own manhood and stick it on his forehead like a unicorn’s horn, or accidentally mistakes a mushroom-like hot towelette for an appetizer while dubbing her fists Cagney and Lacey. It proves how Feig and company can take the vinegar out of all the macho grandstanding and chauvinistic attitudes ingrained in the spy genre. That would also include Cooper’s observation that Ford’s tweed cap makes him look as if he is from the cast of “Newsies” (Always bringing it back to Broadway makes that my favorite line of the film!) I could have done without the stereotypical sexist come-ons by Aldo, who mainly wants to protect Cooper’s breasts. Although Hart’s Nancy does take a random detour to get to hang with rapper 50 Cent (give credit to a cameo that pays off better than one would actually think).

After her misbegotten turn last summer as a down-on-her-luck sad sack in “Tammy” left even the most fervent fans worried that the actress had lost her movie star mojo [although her supporting part in “St. Vincent” (which I personally liked but didn’t love) provided some solace], it is gratifying to see her back in the arms of her best collaborator—director Feig. The man behind her breakout in “Bridesmaids” and her blockbuster pairing with Sandra Bullock in “The Heat” also steps up his game (although his random cameo when he inexplicably walks into a hotel room door doesn’t help anything but I assume his ego). He doesn’t just shoot off a random round of in-jokes and sight gags a la “Austin Powers”-style, he also provides a decent if convoluted espionage plot—complete with tense action sequences, a surprising twist and 007-inspired opening credits—while spiked with a high percentage of gags that actually do succeed.

Most of the pleasure is derived from observing McCarthy’s sweet if insecure Susan Cooper grow from CIA analyst stuck working in a dank vermin-infested bunker to a highly skilled undercover sleuth seeking the whereabouts of a stolen nuke. She is equally at ease with posing as a Midwest cat lady or engaging in hand-to-hand battle a la Jackie Chan against a female assailant in a confined kitchen space by employing baguettes, frying pans and lettuce as lethal weaponry. I like the fact that the film actually plays up Cooper’s frumpiness (much to her constant chagrin) and inexperience in the role of a so-called spy, and I appreciate that her being thrown in the deep end as an agent was’t exactly out of left field as it potentially could have been if the film had an even more convoluted plot.

One of the more intense scenes of "Spy" features plenty of action and a lot of obvious stunt doubles. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

One of the more intense scenes of “Spy” features plenty of action and a lot of obvious stunt doubles. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

All is not perfect, however. Having a male land atop a woman in an awkward position is sort of amusing once but not twice. And, as was the case with Feig’s “The Heat,” an excess of violence does get the point across that dames are as tough if not tougher than the dudes. But when the thugs begin to pile up with reckless abandon and all of a sudden Cooper barely flinches as she shoots her foes dead on the spot, it distracts from rather than enhances the overall humor at hand. But the true measure of a comedy is always how much you actually laugh. As long as the chuckles exceed the body count, all should be good. Which thankfully I found myself chuckling a lot and that is a good thing, and when it comes to its plot “Spy” makes you think from time to time and that is a very good thing. If you are in need of a simple laugh that would make all of your troubles seem like a distant memory for at least a couple hours, the may I suggest letting “Spy” take you there.


Why Dumb and Dumber To Proves You Can’t Go Home Again

No amount of wailing can keep this sequel afloat. After watching Dumb and Dumber 2, I felt how Daniels looks in this picture.

No amount of wailing can keep this sequel afloat. After watching Dumb and Dumber 2, I felt how Daniels looks in this picture.

In the unbelievably strange world of Hollywood, sequels to box hits have now become automatic. Granted with the proliferation of comic book action movies this has become a no brainer. But with every summer blockbuster getting the automatic sequel or even a movie series treatment, it comes at no surprise that successful comedies are treated the same way. Look at what happened with The Hangover, they filmed not one but two dreadful follow-ups, but some movies actually get better with the sequels, or look at the Austin Powers franchise, okay the second one was good the third one not so much.  The minute a film makes a profit you can tell the studios are plotting their next move. The case of 1994’s Dumb and Dumber is a unique one, the film took off when Jim Carrey’s career was just taking off itself. Considering the fact that same year Ace Ventura and The Mask both came out earlier that year. There was no reason to think that Dumb and Dumber would not be a huge box office hit, which of course it was. What makes this case unique is why did it take more than twenty years for the brother duo behind the film Bobby and Peter Farrelly to conjure up the sequel in the first place? As uninspired in both name and concept Dumb and Dumber To was not the sequel fans should have expected or deserved.

Why Do It In The First Place?

Let’s face it, Dumb and Dumber and it’s newly released sequel Dumb and Dumber To was not going to receive a ton of critical acclaim. But what made it on screen actually makes me question the overall motives of everyone involved to actual produce and film this picture. Dumb and Dumber To is one of the most unimaginative, unfunny, and most poorly thought out scripts to make it to the big screen in long time. And that’s saying something. Which is not to say the original film’s most loyal fans will eat it up. They will, as judging by the film’s first weekend receipts, they clearly did. But what does it say about Hollywood when the people involved are clearly producing a film just to cash their pay check because that’s the only explanation I can think of that would explain why the Farrelly brothers, and Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels and Kathleen Turner would ever agree to doing this picture especially after reading the script. Some things in Hollywood never surprise me, they disappointment, but never surprise.

So What Happened?

Where to begin? If you saw the first one then you know you’re not gong to get a witty farce in the realm of Noel Coward. But give the credit to the Farrelly brothers for having had some of the most unique and funniest concepts make to the big screen. What other duo can come up with the concepts behind There’s Something About Mary and Shallow Hal? Okay they’re clearly not the Coen brothers, but hey they provide deliberate, crude and slightly ironic laughs with an audience yearning for a little self-indulgent fun, and who’s to stop them. But clearly the brothers Farrelly have lost their mojo for quite sometime, I mean after duds like this, not to mention their interpretation of The Three Stooges, you have to wonder what going on with them recently. This recent attempt had very little to do with ironic comedy, at my screening I think I heard real laughter from the audience perhaps only twice throughout the entire film. You could tell the audience wasn’t feeling their so-called fresh take on the lives of Harry Dunne (Daniels) and Lloyd Christmas (Carrey) and what they were up to now that they are in their mid-fifties now, yet somehow they’re still not grown up.

Here’s the Story…

In this incarnation, as we begin, Lloyd still at with the practical jokes, thinks he’s pulled the biggest practical joke on Harry when he announces that he’s been faking the whole time while committed to a mental institution. After the audience barely smirks after this revelation, the hijinks continue with Lloyd announcing he needed a kidney transplant and they find out he has a long lost daughter out there who just might be give hers to him. Long story short, and it is a long story indeed, Harry and Lloyd set out to find his suspected daughter Penny (Rachel Melvin) her biological mother who Harry thinks he may have slept with (Turner) and eventually wind up with Travis (Rob Riggle) who through a totally contrived plot point winds up with our dastardly duo on the road attmpting to kill them as they try to get to El Paso to meet up with young Penny at the KEN Conference. Get it? The laughs just keep coming a mile a minute!

Bottom Line 

Dumb and Dumber To is so pointless, so thoughtless and so utterly lacking in laughs both deliberate and ironic that I was left scratching my head on why anyone would want to be involved in this mess. It seems that everyone who’s involved with this sequel career is at a different point in their lives. It’s preety obvious on why the film’s star Jim Carrey chose to do this movie after years of saying he disliked doing sequels. He is not the star he used to be that ‘s obvious. One point Carrey was getting paid 20-25 million per picture, now after a string of flops, much of which was supposed to jump start his career and launch, ironically enough, more franchises like Lemony Snickett or Mr. Popper’s Penguins, now his career is stuck in neutral. I could see why he wanted to do a sequel because it seems so familiar and the film is a guaranteed winner.

As for Jeff Daniels, well his career has had a nice comeback thanks to his Emmy® award winning role in HBO’s The Newsroom, but apparently he too thought his career could use a nice pick me up especially when it came to being noticed on the silver screen. Then there are the founders of this entire concept, the directors and co-writers of the film, Bobby and Peter Farrelly, I feel they have the talent to rival another brother duo in the Coens in the creatively avante garde realm of Hollywood, yet for years they’ve been disappointing fans with worthless projects that have them going nowhere, Movie 43? The Three Stooges? Yeesh. The fact it took six, yes SIX total writers, including the Farrelly brothers to come up with this junk of a movie is worrisome for everyone involved.

Kathleen Turner why are you wasting your time in this hot mess?

Kathleen Turner why are you wasting your time in this hot mess?

There’s a lot of disappointment and blame to go around when it comes to this pointless sequel to the actors to the directors to the writers. I was most disappointed with Oscar® nominee Kathleen Turner playing the pivotal role of Fraida Flecher who may or may not have screwed around with Harry and Lloyd when they were young. Why an actress as talented a Turner would take on a thankless and quite frankly offensive role where she is the recipient of nothing but crude jokes and put downs is beyond me.  Why any of the actors would agree to do this movie after reading the script is beyond me. Skip this sequel, to what many people feel is a landmark, yes I said landmark film of the mid 90’s, go out and VOD the original or hell watch a far superior film of that era called There’s Something About Mary that’s also from the Farrelly’s. Trust me they’ll thank you for remembering their good work.