Sookie St. James is making a comeback.
The warm, kind-hearted neighbor character played to perfection by comedienne Melissa McCarthy in TV’s “Gilmore Girls” has been largely missing from the rising star’s film credits, while McCarthy has made her name mucking it up in less than savory roles.
Her latest adventure, the spoof film “Spy,” is by no means family-friendly entertainment, but continues a step in the right direction for the actress, who needs to continue to display versatility on screen.
Since McCarthy broke out in 2011’s “Bridesmaids,” nearly every single role she has taken on — from her hilarious turn in the buddy cop film “The Heat” to more lackluster roles in “Identity Thief” and “Tammy” — has been some iteration on the bumbling, intentionally fat and ugly bridesmaid Megan.
Her career revitalization — oddly mirroring the resurgence Zach Galifinakis has seen following a supporting role in “Birdman” — began last year with a secondary role in the dramedy “St. Vincent” and continues with “Spy,” by far the best film in McCarthy’s career.
Unlike prior films, “Spy” doesn’t make simpleminded assumptions about how to utilize McCarthy in comedic roles and refuses to simply poke fun at her weight. In fact, McCarthy’s Susan Cooper is a character that might have been played by Sandra Bullock 10 years ago or by Kristen Wiig today.
It’s obvious that director Paul Feig, who teamed with McCarthy on “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat,” knows how to bring the best out of the actress and does the best job writing for her after bringing other screenwriters’ vision to life in their previous pairings.
Every detail in “Spy” is perfectly and painstakingly woven together in a fresh and original way from the crisp dialogue and fast-paced plot to the Bond-like opening credit sequence featuring the Ivy Levan song “Who Can You Trust” that evokes Tina Turner’s belting vocals for the “GoldenEye” title track.
“Spy” doesn’t need to be a comedy to work as a film — it stands surprisingly well on its own as a light action flick — but the comedy works in concert within the rest of the feature to elevate “Spy” beyond B-rate action or comedy for that matter.
Jason Statham — whose comedic chops should have been apparent to anyone who’s seen “Snatch” or “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” — continues to impress in a hilarious turn as the dimwitted operative that’s good, but not great at his job. His delivery of Feig’s pitch perfect jokes is second to none in “Spy,” not even McCarthy herself. Only a handful of actors could pull off a now infamous “Face/Off machine” joke and hit it out of the park.
Jude Law is slightly underutilized within the film, though it makes sense, given the script. An expanded role for the James Bond-esque Brit would be wise in the inevitable sequel sure to be coming in a few years.
The film also boasts impressive supporting performances from an always game Allison Janney, “Neighbors” star Rose Byrne in a pivotal villainess role and Miranda Hart as McCarthy’s slightly manic best friend/coworker.
Comparisons between “Spy” and the Austin Powers spy spoof trilogy have become unavoidable, especially with the recent resurgence of the James Bond franchise placing an increased level of importance on quality spoof films. If we can consider Austin Powers to be the Roger Moore, then “Spy” is the Pierce Brosnan, breathing new life into the comedic knockoff genre made popular by the Powers films, Leslie Nielsen’s “Spy Hard” and the Chevy Chase-Dan Aykroyd classic “Spies Like Us.”
The best thing about “Spy” is how little it tries to be an actual spoof and just attempts to be a funny action spy film, which is so refreshing in the relative sameness of most comedies these days. Hopefully, a female comedic renaissance, teased in both “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat,” will continue to build momentum with “Spy” that “Pitch Perfect 2” failed to live up to. With TV comedy princess Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck” on the way — a film that dominated South by Southwest earlier this year — things are looking up for both McCarthy and the comedic genre.