I ‘Spy’ with my little eye… a rather flawed comedy movie.
The opportunity arose to attend a preview screening yesterday evening to see this film – four days prior to it’s nationwide release date. Upon further research it became apparent this was one of many preview screenings of the film within the past couple of weeks. Typically this can raise alarm bells with regards the film. Distributors (in this case 20th Century Fox) tend to increase the amount of preview screenings for a film if they are worried about the reaction of critics. By increasing preview screenings distributors are trying to increase the word-of-mouth feedback for a film, as opposed to reliance on film reviews, to ensure commerce. So far, however, this appears to have been an unwarranted concern. ‘Spy’ currently holds a rating of 95% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes (a website that counts positive and negative reviews and collates them to create a rating) and nearly all of the reviews for this film are overwhelming positive. But, in all honesty, I am uncertain as to why. In fact, I half-wonder if I saw the same film as these critics.
Brief recap for those of you who are not aware of the plot to the film – Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) works for the CIA, but she is not a spy. She is the person behind the voice actual spy Timothy Fine (Jude Law) can hear through his earpiece. They are a team, until one day circumstances mean that McCarthy must step away from her desk and into the field as an agent. Whilst she has had all the training, is she really good enough?
When put like that the film does sound interesting, and rather different from most films out there. The Spy/Thriller genre is one that deserves much parody, and this should have been a fresh take on well-beaten path. Instead, for me at least, this film just didn’t seem to work. First and foremost I want to state just how good the cast are in this film. McCarthy’s Susan is immensely likeable. Whilst she could have been a one-dimensional characticture, McCarthy ensures that she is played with warmth and affection with the audience willing her to succeed in even the most unlikely of circumstances. The rest of the ensemble are also well played – alongside Law there are other recognisable names/ faces in the form of Jason Statham (another CIA agent, parodying type), Rose Bryne (a Bulgarian villain), Miranda Hart (Susan’s BFF), Peter Serafinowicz (an Italian ally) and 50 Cent (as 50 Cent). Unfortunately they are all let down by the script – which tries far too hard for laughs that is often misses them completely. The majority of the gags are predictable and cheap – falling into the categories of stale, bad-taste or simply unfunny (often all at once.)
One big issue for me, which has seemingly gone unnoticed by the majority of reviews, was some of the gender politics within the film. Women are either represented as ‘beautiful skinny bitches’ (Bryne) or ‘awkward unattractive singletons’ (McCarthy and Hart.) Men are just varying levels of arrogance or perviness. Serafinowicz plays an Aldo, an Italian spy who has been roped in to help Susan when she is in Rome. This ‘help’ involves driving at high-neck speeds across the city – driving so fast he has to grab onto her breasts for support. The ‘joke’ here is that obviously he doesn’t need to, he’s just using the opportunity to grope her. Hahahaha – sexual assault is so funny!!! She keeps telling him to keep his hands to himself which he ignores. Again, unwanted molestation – hehehhehehe! (This is sarcasm, just in case it wasn’t clear…)
Later in the film (SPOILER ALERT) the pair are tied up and held prisoner in a basement. Susan asks Aldo to help untie her – which involves various aerobic gymnastics until he is in the right position (can you see we’re I’m going with this yet?) to help untie her (which involves his crotch resting upon her neck.) Once she is free she dabs at her neck, commenting on the damp patch he has left there. He responds with an over-the-top Italian style ‘Aw Shucks!’ The obvious implication is that he ejaculated on her neck in the process of untying her. Obviously this joke is bloody hilarious (it’s not.) Aldo spends the reminder of his screen-time attempting to seduce Susan, and other female characters, but obviously this is funny because he is harmless. In no way can his actions be misconstrued as the actions of a sexual predator.
It is hard not to think that if this scene had been reversed, with the female character helping untie the male character is the same fashion it would be played very differently in one of two ways. 1) If the female character was deemed ‘attractive’ it would be highly sexualised. 2) If the female character was deemed ‘grotesque’ it would be played for awkward laughs – at the expense of the female character. Instead, in ‘Spy’, Aldo faces no consequences for his predatory behaviour. At the end of the film Aldo reveals he is actually a British spy playing an Italian. Or is he?!? He crawls (not literally, I’m being intentionally hyperbolic) off screen promising to see Susan soon. Hahaha – that lovable creep Aldo. Not.
So, to conclude, ‘Spy’ is the example of a what could-have-been great ensemble cast let down by an ultimately flawed script.