'Spy' (R)

It should be mandatory that Melissa McCarthy not make another feature film unless Paul Feig is the writer or director.
He showed with Heat how when McCarthy’s comic energy is shifted away from the lampoonish gags built around her weight and being loud she can be blisteringly funny.

Feig demonstrates with Spy, his latest collaboration with McCarthy, that Heat wasn’t a fluke. McCarthy turns in one of the funniest performances of her career in this espionage spoof.

It’s one of the funniest films of the year.

The bond between Feig and McCarthy starts with the actress playing Susan Cooper, a CIA agent who has spent the past 10 years as the technical support for super spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law). She’s been the voice in Fine’s ear as he’s tackled missions around the world.

When all CIA agents get compromised, it’s up to Cooper to give up her Miss Funnypenny style work to become a field agent.
This is where Feig succeeds where so many other directors and writers have failed. The director gives McCarthy a solid role to play and she responds.

Cooper shows great spy skills as she tracks down Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), a snobbish weapons dealer who is trying to sell a nuclear bomb to terrorists.

There are no jokes about how Cooper can’t chase down the bad guys because she’s too heavy or long passages where she just shouts gibberish. McCarthy’s character is commanding, determined and able while still showing some vulnerabilities about being in the field for the first time.

Because the character is so solid, McCarthy must turn in an acting performance to equal the role. And she does.

The movie only gets better when she’s surrounded by a strong supporting cast. Law’s the perfect choice to plan the James Bond-ish spy, while tough guy Jason Statham reveals a great skill at doing comedy. British comic Miranda Hart provides comedy accents to round out the film and Byrne nails being a snooty nemesis.

Even Allison Janney provides several big laughs as Cooper’s boss, even when she’s playing the role with a serious side. The laughs – like so many from McCarthy – come out of the smart writing.

After watching McCarthy flounder and fail in so many comedy attempts, it’s a joy to be reminded that with the right writing and direction she can be one of the top comics on film.

It’s the controlled and creative performance from McCarthy that makes Spy work. Feig lets her have big comic moments and never pushes the character to cartoonish levels. That includes several fight scenes that McCarthy handles with action film star skills.

There’s plenty of the crude humor that Feig loves to use, but it’s so well-balanced by the smart comedy that those scenes never feel superficial.

This all goes into making Spy the best comedy about international crime fighting since the heyday of Austin Powers: Man of Mystery.

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Allison Janney.

Writer-director: Paul Feig.

A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 124 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, brief graphic nudity. Playing at area theaters.

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