Skip to main content

Nothing kills me! I’m immune to 179 different types of poison. I know, because I ingested them all at once when I was deep undercover in an underground, poison-ingesting crime ring.

Spy
(2015)

Paul Feig labours under the curse of Apatow. I don’t mean his penchant for orifice humour, although that is abundant, but rather the illusion that the perfect length for a comedy is no less than two hours. There’s a very funny movie lurking within Spy, but its definitely no more than 100 minutes long. Which is half an hour longer than the extended cut.


One of the raft of 2015 espionage movies, Spy brandishes a better Bond theme than the actual Bond movie and, in Jude Law, someone with a suavity Daniel Craig lacks (this was also true of the main players in Kingsman and Man from U.N.C.L.E, though). Feig is no action director, but then neither is Sam Mendes especially, and as a writer he sticks to a fairly unimaginative, well-explored genre-riffing template, albeit with a minor but key twist; Melissa McCarthy’s desk jockey Susan Cooper, assistant to super secret agent Bradley Fine (Law) is actually highly capable in her own right.


This is a huge step up from the underwhelming and tired The Heat, although just as dependent on formula (the MacGuffin’s a nuke) and comedy stars’ improv skills to keep ticking over. McCarthy’s obligatory faux-sincere journey is one of developing self-respect and moving beyond her infatuation with Fine; the attractive people, Fine (Law’s hairpiece is firmly in place) and Rose Byrne’s Rayna Boyanov (and Morena Baccarin, naturally) are entirely self-involved and/or obnoxious.


McCarthy is on good vulgar form, particularly when she’s called upon to be antagonist (and most especially so to Bjorn Gustafsson’s “reject from the Sound of Music” Anton; “You look like Abba took a shit and put a trenchcoat on it”). Miranda Hart, playing Miranda Hart (well, Nancy B Artingstall, but same difference) is the latest Brit comedy export who flounders in a sea of Hollywood. Byrne (“You look like an Ewok died on your head”) plays it appropriately straight as Feig’s go-to bitch (see also Bridesmaids) and Allison Janney perfectly pitches the hard-assed boss. Peter Serafinowicz gives either a good performance as a horny British spy badly impersonating an Italian agent (“Was Pepé le Pew not available?”), or a terrible performance as an Italian who can rehearse a good British spy. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. 50 Cent isn’t funny, and can’t act, but I think we knew that.


There’s much play on spy tropes, including gadgets taking the form of undesirable personal healthcare items such as anti-fungal spray and stool softener. There’s also copious gross-out (vomiting on grotesquely impaled corpses) and inessential unrated cut envelope-pushing (erect penises are so in at the moment).


Stealing the show, though, is the Stat as supremely incompetent and ignorant agent Rick Ford. Unrepentantly coarse (“Twot means something completely different in England”), even under threat of reprimand from the HR Department, Rick is entirely gullible (“I go into the Face/Off machine and get a whole new face”) and a font of endless tall tales about his exploits (“This arm has been ripped off completely, and reattached with this fucking arm”, he has Posed as Barack Obama; “In black face?”), and boasts “Nothing kills me! I’m immune to 179 different types of poison. I know, because I ingested them all at once when I was deep undercover in an underground, poison-ingesting crime ring”). The Stat doesn’t try to be funny, very wisely, he just winds his hard action man act up to 11 and keeps on going.


Spy isn’t dull, and a good quotient of its gags are pretty funny (although Feig’s idea of quality control appears to be to give everything a pass), but It’s just too damn long to hit a consistent stride. That may not matter with his next outing, the femme-centric redux of Ghostbusters, but it’s about time someone remembered that comedies should leave you wanting more, rather than all tapped out.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

And you people, you’re all astronauts... on some kind of star trek.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
(SPOILERS) Star Trek: First Contact (also known as plain First Contact, back when “Star Trek” in the title wasn’t necessarily a selling point to the great unwashed. Or should that be great washed?) is probably about as good as a ST:TNG movie could be, in as much as it actively rejects much of what made the TV series what it is: starchy, placid, smug, platitudinous exchanges about how evolved humanity has become in the 25th century. Yeah, there’s a fair bit of that here too, but it mainly recognises that what made the series good, when it was good, was dense, time travel plotting and Borg. Mostly Borg. Until Borg became, like any golden egg, overcooked. Oh, and there’s that other hallowed element of the seven seasons, the goddam holodeck, but the less said about that the better. Well, maybe a paragraph. First Contact is a solid movie, though, overcoming its inherent limitations to make it, by some distance, the best of the four big screen outings with Pic…

I fear I’ve snapped his Gregory.

Twin Peaks 3.14: We are like the Dreamer.
(SPOILERS) In an episode as consistently dazzling as this, piling incident upon incident and joining the dots to the extent it does, you almost begin to wonder if Lynch is making too much sense. There’s a notable upping of the pace in We are like the Dreamer, such that Chad’s apprehension is almost incidental, and if the convergence at Jack Rabbit’s Tower didn’t bring the FBI in with it, their alignment with Dougie Coop can be only just around the corner.

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

You've already met Judy.

Twin Peaks 3.15: There’s some fear in letting go.
Just two episodes ago, Big Ed was nursing a solitary late night cup-a-soup and looking as if nothing could ever come right. And even here, it seems as if, having finally been finally let off the leash by Nadine, he’ll be reduced to a coffee and cyanide. So the reparatory hand on his shoulder, signalling Norma is ready to be there with him for evermore, seems too good to be true. I’m wary that Lynch and Frost won’t just pull the rug from under them, and how long Nadine, who thanks to Dr Amp shows no fear in letting go, will remain in her golden, shovelled-up state.

I particularly enjoyed Wendy Robie’s delivery of “But I’ve been a SELFISH BITCH to you all these years”, and several of the characters here – Nadine, Big Ed, Hawk – are proving much more effective in this second wind of the series than they ever did first time round. Michael Horse has a great face for stoic rumination now. But not a horse face. 

Hawk’s phone conversations – I …

Don’t get tipsy. We can’t have you hiccoughing in the coffin.

The Avengers 4.2: The Murder Market
Tony Williamson’s first teleplay for the series picks up where Brian Clemens left off and then some, with murderous goings-on around marriage-making outfit Togetherness Inc (“Where there is always a happy ending”). Peter Graham Scott, in his first of four directing credits, sets out a winning stall where cartoonishness and stylisation are the order of the day. As is the essential absurdity of the English gentleman, with Steed’s impeccable credentials called on to illustrious effect not seen since The Charmers.

Cool. FaceTime without a phone.

Sense8 Season One
(SPOILERS) The Wachowskis do like their big ideas, but all too often their boldness and penchant for hyper-realism drowns out all subtlety. Their aspirations may rarely exceed their technical acumen, but regularly eclipse their narrative skills. And with J Michael Straczynski on board, whose Babylon 5 was marked out by ahead-of-its-time arc plotting but frequently abysmal dialogue, it’s no wonder Sense8 is as frequently clumsy in the telling as it is arresting in terms of spectacle.

I frequently had the feeling that Sense8 was playing into their less self-aware critical faculties, the ones that produced The Matrix Reloaded rave rather than the beautifully modulated Cloud Atlas. Sense8 looks more like the latter on paper: interconnecting lives and storylines meshing to imbue a greater meaning. The truth is, however, their series possesses the slenderest of central plotlines. It’s there for the siblings to hang a collection of cool ideas, set pieces, themes and fascina…

How dare you shush a shushing!

Home (2015)
(SPOILERS) Every so often, DreamWorks Animation offer a surprise, or they at least attempt to buck their usual formulaic approach. Mr. Peabody & Sherman surprised with how sharp and witty it was, fuelled by a plot that didn’t yield to dumbing down, and Rise of the Guardians, for all that its failings, at least tried something different. When such impulses lead to commercial disappointment, it only encourages the studio to play things ever safer, be that with more Madagascars or Croods. Somewhere in Home is the germ of a decent Douglas Adams knock-off, but it would rather settle on cheap morals, trite messages about friendship and acceptance and a succession of fluffy dance anthems: an exercise in thoroughly varnished vacuity.

Those dance anthems come (mostly) courtesy of songstress Rhianna, who also voices teenager Tip, and I’m sure Jeffrey Katzenberg fully appreciated what a box office boon it would be to have her on board. The effect is cumulatively nauseating though, l…

This is hell, and I’m going to give you the guided tour.

Lock Up (1989)
Sylvester Stallone’s career was entering its first period of significant decline when Lock Up was flushed out at the tail end of his most celebrated decade. His resumé since Rocky includes a fair selection of flops, but he was never far from a return to the ring. Added to that, his star power had been considerably buoyed by a second major franchise in the form of John Rambo. For a significant chunk of the ‘80s he was unbeatable, and it’s this cachet (and foreign receipts) that has enable him to maintained his wattage through subsequent periods of severe drought. Lock Up came the same year as another Stallone prison flick, Tango & Cash, in which the actor discovered both his funny guy chops (resulting in an ill-advised but mercifully brief lurch in to full-blown comedy) and made a late stage bid to get in on the buddy cop movie formula (perhaps ego prevented him trying it before?) The difference between the two is vast. One is a funny, over-the-top, self-consciously bo…