Friday, June 5, 2015

Spy [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (1 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review  

As far as James Bond-like spy spoofs go, the Melissa McCarthy vehicle Spy [2015] (written and directed by Paul Feig) is, with some clear problems / reservations (below), reasonably good.

It's a good part Steve Carell's Get Smart [2008], a good part Mike Myers' Austin Powers [1997] and perhaps even part Peter Sellers' Pink Panther [1963] with Melissa McCarthy playing the unlikely hero(ine).

Like Steve Carell's Maxwell Smart in Get Smart [2008], Melissa McCarthy plays a super-capable (here CIA) analyst (named Susan Cooper) who proves absolutely indispensable "behind the desk/computer monitor" somewhere in some hellish "undisclosed location."  One time even as she's leading her super agent Bradley Fine (played by Jude Law), who it's obvious that she's in love with (though he, or course, doesn't have a clue ...), through a particularly tricky assignment, BATS seem to burst through the ceiling of her "undisclosed location."  And so there she was, WITH ONE HAND on her computer mouse, leading her heart throb / agent through a maze of corridors and potential assassins, WHILE BEATING OFF _BATS_ WITH THE OTHER (HAND), all the while trying to "keep focused" on the "mission at hand" ;-).

She proved so indispensable that even though she was a certified field agent (well 10 years past ...), like Steve Carell's boss in Get Smart [2008], hers, Elaine Crocker (played by Allison Janney), didn't want to let her go into the field either.

But ... it turned out that while trying to stop a plot by a Bulgarian super-villain with a Rocky-and-Bulwinkle-ish name, Rayna Boyanov (played by Rose Byrne), from selling a lose suitcase sized nuke (HOW MANY of these "conveniently transportable nukes" ARE THERE??? ;-) to a random deep-pocketed terrorist, the identities of ALL of Elaine's available agents were compromised ... 'cept of course ... Susan Cooper.  So ... guess who got the gig, now, finally, after all these years?

Much, often LOL funny, yet also in typical Melissa McCarthy / Paul Feig fashion rather needlessly crude ...  ensues ... But let's try to put the accent on LOL funny, because it often is:

The "identities / cover stories" that poor, short, weight-challenged Susan Cooper is given are always sad / pathetic: Divorced middle aged mother of four in Europe because she won a trip there having been Indiana's "Amway salesperson of the month" several months running.  "Never married, cat lady" from Kentucky ("I have 10 cats?  How's that even legal?").  "Unemployed middle-aged  telemarketer from Akron" ("Oh come on, who'd take a passport picture with those glasses on ...?").

There's Rick Ford (played by Jason Statham) a super-gung-ho agent who's SO TOUGH that ONCE he "DEFIBRILLATED himself" ;-) ;-).   Yet brains definitely were definitely NOT his strong suit.  So he never seems to grasp that his identity has been compromised (and hence he REALLY SHOULD BE "off this case...").  As a result, he keeps clawing his way into now Cooper's operation, often at the worst possible times, forcing Cooper's handlers to keep changing _her identity_, giving her each time an even more frumpy "back story" than the last.

When Cooper finds herself in Rome, she's partnered with "Aldo" (played by Peter Serafinowicz) who's PROBABLY THE MOST PROBLEMATIC CHARACTER IN THE FILM.  Nominally an Italian driver / intelligence agent, he simply can't seem to keep his hands off of Susan's, well ... "Ts or A" ... through the whole of the rest of the film.  Now, I work in a parish with a significant Italian / Italian American population (I've celebrated bilingual English-Italian Masses for Weddings, Anniversaries and Funerals here as well as for Saint Anthony of Padua.  At our annual Easter Vigil Liturgy, we've had one of the Readings proclaimed in Italian now for years).   I've also spent three years in Italy during my time in the Seminary.  And I can't think of a single "Aldo" that I would have met during ANY OF THIS TIME.   So I find "Aldo's" character embarrassing, and knowing that there will be Italian American parishioners as well as Italian Servites back in Italy reading my review of this film, I FIND IT REALLY HARD TO RECOMMEND IT TO THEM, GIVEN "ALDO'S" PORTRAYAL.  PERHAPS a "saving grace" would be that LATE IN THE FILM (very mild spoiler alert) it is revealed that "Aldo" COULD BE either a MI-6 (British Intelligence) officer OR perhaps an Italian intelligence officer _pretending_ that he was an MI-6 officer playing an Italian intelligence officer (In "the spy game," things can get "pretty complicated" ;-).  Still, I do think that "Aldo" was a self-inflicted problem for the film.  Again, as a Catholic priest in a parish with a significant Italian American population, I find it difficult to recommend a movie that portrays an "Italian" so stupidly ...

And then there is the film's villain the Slavic "Bulgarian temptress" Rayna Boyanov (played by Rose Byrne) ...  I'm of Czech descent and one of the more amusing comments of a Prague daily, Lidovky's review of the recent Avengers movie* was that Hollywood seems to insist that "all Slavic names" HAVE to end with "ov" or "off" (note that while Czechs do put the "-ová" suffix to the end of women's last names, there's almost no Czech name that would end with "-ov" or "-off." So the ending's a Hollywood stereotype).  Then "Boyanov" is practically "Badinoff" of 1950s / Cold War Era Rocky & Bullwinkle [IMDb] infamy...  But okay, someone has to be a villain, and Russia's a bigger market than Bulgaria, so "why not make the villain, NOT Russian but 'Bulgarian' instead ..."  Note here, that (1) since 2004 Bulgaria's a NATO ally, (2) in the European Union since 2007, and (3) over the course of my writing this blog, I've reviewed THREE Bulgarian films, ALL OF THEM EXCELLENT, two of them Avé [2011] and The Judgement [2014] certainly Oscar worthy.  So, making fun of Bulgaria in this film (in as much as the film does so, though thankfully not THAT much ... "Aldo's" portrayed worse ...) is again, not particularly nice. 

Still, all things considered, Melissa McCarthy takes most of the film's jokes upon herself, and the film as a whole is a send-up of the impossibly glamorous "007 genre."  So it is (generally) a fun movie.

Just ... don't be Italian or Bulgarian ... sigh ...

 * Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.  

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