Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig Team Up Again

Spy joins the “woman version of…” genre which appears to have sprouted wings solely under writer/director Paul Feig. A woman-led Hangover (Bridesmaids), woman-starring buddy cop movie (The Heat), now Spy with its Melissa McCarthy James Bond schtick. It’s pervasive, a middle finger to in-industry doubt whether women in traditionally male-dominated cinema can score financial results.

Enter Melissa McCarthy, scathing, raw, and relentlessly self-depreciating. Opening credits ping Bond – with a theme song and dizzying digital credits – but the follow through is unsustainable because of its relentlessness in trying to make a point. Results only feel pandering. Spy exists to convince an audience femininity and action are a pair. In the film’s background is an energetic Colombiana, a slew of Ronda Rousey features, and the striking ferocity of Gina Carano’s Haywire. McCarthy adds falling down on a scooter to the roster.

Spy is funny, oftentimes unmercifully so. Overload is immediate. An introductory sequence is comically layered with slick Bond clone Jude Law, aided by McCarthy’s desk assistant who is assaulted by vampire bats living in the CIA’s ductwork. The information pile on is tenacious. When the feature isn’t trying to indulge a womanly demographic – shamelessly – Spy is inadvertently making its point. McCarthy is a surprising, adept action heroine who oversteps a bumbling sidekick Jason Statham in a parody of his own roles.

Spy hinges on recklessly added, aimless F-bombs…

Slice through the center of this overrun two hour comedy and Spy has energy. Instead, McCarthy is plundered for her looks. The playing up of her systemic self-doubt is implausible. Spy builds its star as a capable terrorist killer removed from in-the-field CIA work, because men. She’s groped as a sex object in a running gag and gawked at in evening gowns. The sexism metaphor is bullied and poked as needed. Maybe that’s the point – objectivism is never-ending. But nothing flows naturally, certainly not McCarthy and co-star Rose Byrne cursing with staggering frequency. Spy hinges on recklessly added, aimless F-bombs which soar the film into R territory within minutes. The tiring feature often has little else to back the humor.

When Spy is on, in particular a kitchen melee and goofy car chase, Fieg’s latest is fun. More so than often aimless The Heat or stumpy Bridesmaids, Spy is the closest success in Fieg’s impromptu “brand.” McCarthy too is showing signs of screen life without drawing repetitive attention to her weight. She fights and brawls without a break although oddly, McCarthy is frequently saved by her male co-stars. Seems counter-intuitive, but Spy is at least close. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]

McCarthy up close @ 3:09

Off to a questionable start with excessive noise as cameras pan around Jude Law, Spy recuperates. Cinematographer Robert D Yeoman shoots digitally for the first time, leading to images flushed with clarity, setting aside an exception for exteriors of CIA locations. They appear pulled from 480p YouTube videos. Other exteriors are excellent.

Definition is consistent, offering plenty of fine facial detail without compression problems – as if Fox was ever known for them. Brightness is pleasing, keeping a high contrast and depth in view. There is limited attempt at mood. Even in nighttime interiors, things tend to be lit well. A brief moment where the lights go out is even brighter than it should be. Black levels won’t help much here however.

While the source Bond affairs mute themselves, Spy is sprightly. Colors are saturated, selling a number of famed locations. Partway through, Spy may have one of the more colorful car chases in an action film. Pottery lines the streets and buildings are flushed with color. It’s a crowd pleaser. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

Given the routine nature of the action scenes, a 7.1 mix feels a touch bloated. Extra surrounds are limited in their use, even within the higher intensity opening. Gunfire has a full spread across the soundfield with only light positioning in the rears. When a missile strike hits a bridge, water splashes overhead as a reminder of the 7.1 output.

Certain sequences are nicely mixed. A plane falling, with air rushing and engines roaring. A car chase with decent panning effects. Bats fluttering around the CIA office is a nice touch too.

Most of the low-end impact is left to the soundtrack instead of the action though. Spy sounds reserved.  [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

This review of Spy is based on a rental copy (sans extras) since Fox has ceased sending Blu-ray screeners. Retail copies do come with an extended cut of the film. [xrr rating=0/5 label=Extras]


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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