spy_poster-2By Kyle G. King. Melissa McCarthy’s resume spans nearly two decades, but undoubtedly the breakout role that introduced her zestful charisma to the big screen was Paul Feig’s 2011 hit Bridesmaids. And while she saw relative success two years after in Identity Thief and The Heat — both cementing her magnetic screen presence — her premiere as a leading star was received as a critical and financial flop the following year with Tammy. Unwilling to accept this reality, Paul Feig got to work writing, developing, producing, and directing a script that puts McCarthy back in a leading role with his action-comedy summer blockbuster Spy.

Have you ever wondered how a world-class secret agent always has the drop on their opponent? Ian Fleming might say it’s thanks to a natural British wit, but in Spy it’s the proficient tactical mind of Susan Cooper (McCarthy) in a CIA basement, affirming blueprint layouts and play-by-play fight tactics to field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) via earpiece. Cooper and Fine both agree they make a killer duo professionally, but Susan secretly and hopelessly harbors romantic feelings towards her man in the field. That hopelessness swells after Fine is assassinated during a mission to recover a nuclear something-or-other from a non-American so-and-so (real plotlines seem to be kept deliberately vague and familiar so as not to tie-up brain cells from the jokes afoot). After Fine’s evil assassin confesses they’re privy to the identities of an astonishingly low amount of CIA field agents (it’s less than six), Susan steps out of the shadows to prove her tactical prowess beyond the basement as a bonafide, shaken-not-stirred, international super-spy.

The spy genre is old enough to have amassed its fair share of candid satires and parody work, and Feig’s script aims to distinguish itself with an assembly of high speed chases, explosive action, and well-choreographed fight scenes. But in its attempt to stride away from 1980’s Leslie Nielsen and towards 1980’s Eddie Murphy, the film stumbles over its own tripwire, both literally and allegorically. What the script and direction deliver in hammy, raunchy comedy, they lack in creative flourish. The same comedic set-ups and deliveries can be seen in the 18 year-old Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, and most of the action scenes end with a savior sniper from afar, or appear lifted from any and all Jason Statham movies. Statham himself provides a few laughs in a meta-supporting role as a fellow field agent not far from his usual casting.

spy-2-gallery-imageThe cocktail of appropriated comedy-action has the potential to provide a few sporadic chuckles, and one or two cool nods of approval as McCarthy channels Jackie Chan in bringing a frying pan to a knife fight. But most of the un-massaged MacGuffin plot holes expose weak and poorly conceived story structures surrounding silly action sequences that only exist to prop up punchlines that don’t actually punch (i.e. “There’s a mouse on my tits”). McCarthy’s talents bleed through to occasionally finesse the off-kilter action with the physical humor that distinguishes her–no one else can fall off a scooter with such complete confidence and elegance. After her initial cover is blown, Cooper creates another alter ego that showcases the spunky, foul-mouthed McCarthy that won us over in Bridesmaids and This is 40 — and while it sadly tokenizes her brand, it gives the film its best half hour.

Featuring Jude Law, Jason Statham, Allison Janney, Miranda Hart, and Bobby Cannavale — and Rose Byrne as the malevolent Bulgarian arms dealer at odds with the undercover Cooper — the cast of characters are sure to entertain. But even with that stacked cast and a proven director, nothing and no one feels dangerous, surprising, or worthy of a belly laugh (although the 50 Cent cameo was a bit surprising). McCarthy ably steps forward, proving the mighty capability of carrying a movie herself, but sadly this one might not be worth carrying: save your money for either the Blu-Ray Bridesmaids special features, or spring for the premium proton accelerator when you dress up for Feig and McCarthy’s Ghostbusters remake, instead.