There’s no doubt that “Spy,” the new James Bond spoof starring comedienne Melissa McCarthy, is laugh-out-loud funny.
What I do question, however, is whether continuing to make bawdy, juvenile, R-rated comedy is really a good move for the well-known actress. One observation in particular at my local theater illustrates my skepticism.
But first …
McCarthy has made a name for herself playing both candy-apple sweet (her role in TV’s “Gilmore Girls”) and brashly rude and insulting. The unexpected contrast between her bubbly exterior and her razor-sharp tongue is partly what makes the star of TV’s “Mike & Molly” so funny.
And she plays both sides in “Spy,” a movie loaded with talent (including Jude Law, Jason Statham and others) about a confidence-challenged techie from the CIA’s underground computer lab who suddenly finds herself thrust into the field as a superspy. The fish-out-of-water shtick is only half the humor in a movie where every character is given a chance to shine, and there’s never a moment that takes itself seriously.
“Spy” is a laugh a minute and should have been a memorable comedy that audiences go see again and again. With the caliber of McCarthy’s performance, this should have been a vehicle to only further launch her considerable comedy star into the stratosphere.
Only I don’t think it will. I’d suggest that while this film will do fine at the box office, McCarthy is wearing out her welcome, tarnishing her own image and shooting her future career in the foot.
Why? Back to that example from my local theater.
This movie was funny. The folks in my theater were laughing. We were, for the most part, having a good time. And if you, as a moviemaker or movie star, leave your audiences with the impression that they had a good time at your movie, odds are they’ll want to return for your next one. It’s just good branding.
But when this movie was over, when the laughs stopped coming, I took a look at the faces of the people in my theater. Were they smiling, patting one another on the back, nodding and laughing and anxious to see another McCarthy movie?
Despite the laughs, the physical comedy, the action, the occasional moments of clever writing – despite all the ingredients that could have made “Spy” a comedy classic – the movie was also filled with ceaseless, senseless profanity, adolescent sex jokes and startling gore. Despite being completely and sufficiently funny on the basis of its script and characters alone, “Spy” still couldn’t resist going for the cheap laughs with base, junior-high gutter talk.
And while that worked just fine for Mel Brooks (and “Spy” at times feels like a Brooks film), there’s a reason Brooks hasn’t made a successful movie since 1987 (“Spaceballs”).
Hollywood has taken a major turn since the filth-laden days of the 1980s. Audiences today know and expect they can go to the theater and enjoy a movie without having their intelligence and their morality insulted constantly. The biggest hits of the last dozen years (“Frozen,” “The Avengers,” “Avatar,” “The Dark Knight,” “The Hunger Games”) have all proven you don’t need the 88 F-bombs “Spy” crammed into its script. In fact, the box office numbers reveal we’d rather they not be there at all.
So instead of my local theater emptying into the lobby with laughs and smiles, the audience merely stared at their feet, got up and threw the empty popcorn tubs away. We didn’t look into one another’s eyes with that, “Aren’t you glad we were here to experience this together?” look. The people just left.
Explain to me why an audience that just spent an hour and a half laughing isn’t happy when the movie credits roll.
I’d argue it’s because despite the funny, most moviegoers don’t actually enjoy bathing in filth. Oh, sure, there will always be fans of “The Hangover” and “Jackass” who think this kind of stuff is a riot. But even those guys usually grow up.
The rest of us didn’t leave the theater thinking, “I want to see the next McCarthy film.” In fact, just the opposite. The shtick is getting old, and I don’t really like it shtuck all over me. If McCarthy is the headliner in another film, I’m now less likely to see it because I watched “Spy.” And that’s not good branding for the comedienne’s career.
- “Spy,” rated R, contains just over 200 obscenities and profanities, at least 88 of which were f-bombs.
- The movie contains dozens of lewd jokes and references, groping, kissing, a simulated (no nudity seen, but obvious movement) scene of oral sex and briefly flashed photos of a bare penis. There’s various shots of tight dresses, cleavage and a few kisses. A joke is made about a middle-aged woman looking like “someone’s homophobic aunt.”
- The movie contains several scenes of strong violence, including physical combat, knifeplay, gunfights, shootings, killings, car crashes and so forth. Some graphic gore and bloodshed is evident. In one particularly gruesome scene, a man dies as his neck dissolves into goo from drinking a form of acid or poison.
- The film has no significant religious or occult content, but does have a briefly spoken, casual prayer (“Oh God, what have I done?”) and a memorial service during which it is said, “The universe has a plan for each human life.”