The least creative thing about writer/director Paul Feig's enjoyably foul-mouthed action comedy Spy is its title. Spy is also the title of a fairly recent Britcom about an MI5 agent and his 10-and-a-half-year-old son. The Feig movie's original title was Susan Cooper. By the end of the movie, Melissa McCarthy and Feig have created such a distinctive and likable new heroine--and managed to give her a satisfying dramatic arc in addition to her comedic antics--that you won't forget the name Susan Cooper, and her name deserves to be part of the branding of the super-spy franchise that will likely arise from Spy, much like how Austin Powers' name is part of the title of every movie of his and Jason Bourne's name is in the title of every Bourne movie, including ones he doesn't even bother to appear in.
But then again, Feig's the kind of director who seems to prefer movie titles that don't take up too much space on a marquee. I Am David, Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy and Ghostbusters are all titles that are easy work for marquee changers, especially ones who'd get an anxiety attack after finding out they have to put the letters up for Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies.
|Mondo poster illustrated by The Dude Designs (Photo source: Birth.Movies.Death.)|
So had Sky 1 not come out with a show called Spy, I'd be more enamored with the movie's title because it nicely conveys in just three letters that Susan was born to be one. But because Spy is a comedy, the transition from mission control support to CIA field agent for Susan, who's a winning mix of Midwestern politeness and the fearlessness of McCarthy's Boston cop character Shannon Mullins from The Heat, isn't exactly a smooth one. That transition is initially loaded with the usual slapstick McCarthy frequently excels at, as well as the honest and comically appalled reactions many Feig characters have to any kind of mayhem (think the bridesmaids' varied reactions to food poisoning in Bridesmaids or Sandra Bullock amusingly panicking over a knife shoved into her thigh and wanting so badly to break her vow to never curse in The Heat). Spy arose out of Feig's wish to make a spy movie like one of his favorite movies, the 2006 version of Casino Royale, but because these are Feig characters, not Bond movie characters who respond to everything in the most badass and suave (as well as PG-13-friendly and extremely--and implausibly--sanitized) ways, they puke from the sight of accidentally impaling someone they've killed or launch into a barrage of F-bombs when they don't get their way.
But once McCarthy's Bridesmaids co-star Rose Byrne enters the picture and Susan becomes more confident about her field work and is able to infiltrate the Byrne character's enemy organization, thanks to a very particular set of skills (like intuition) that Susan's overconfident colleague/work rival Rick Ford (Jason Statham) is too bullheaded and inept to possess, Spy takes an interesting turn as a spy comedy. It becomes a comedy about an underestimated spy who's good at her job instead of incompetent (Get Smart) or competent but immature (Archer), which also makes it an intriguing companion piece to the Marvel Studios show Agent Carter, another story of a frequently underestimated female spy. But where's the conflict when the central character's a competent spy? Isn't that a comedy killer? When McCarthy has such great--and often improvised--dialogue and trades insults with the consistently funny likes of a perfectly cast (and perfectly big-haired) Byrne as a villainous arms dealer and Statham in what has to be the funniest and greatest role of his career as the hilariously useless Ford, nobody has to worry about the disappearance of humor.