Since the release of the first James Bond movie Dr. No in 1962, every spy movie has had pretty much the same plot. You fill in the blanks. The debonair, heroic ____________ infiltrates high society in order to stop the exotic, evil _____________ from destroying the world and everyone in it by blowing it up, letting lose a highly toxic material into the air or water, or _____________. Except for the hero part, Spy follows this plotline almost exactly. The difference with Spy, however, is that it is a comedy and by making the hero so out-of-character for a secret agent it becomes a very funny movie.
In Spy, Susan (Melissa McCarthy) plays a frumpy, matronly character in order to infiltrate a crime family who know the faces and identities of every current field CIA agent. She is not on theirs radar because although she works for the CIA, she spends her time in the background at a computer terminal. There she prompts agents as to what their next move should be or provides them with critical information at just the right time. In Spy, she suddenly becomes an agent who is both incompetent and phenomenal at the same time. Her role is a total contrast to the more stereotypical agents played by Jude Law who plays a sophisticated, gentleman-type spy and Jason Statham, who sometimes steals the show as a spy who is a complete lunatic.
Comedy is probably the most difficult material to pull off in a movie. Most of these type of movies have moronic scripts written at a 5th grade level, lots of dumb pratfalls, and dozens of gross jokes about sex, body parts, or bodily excretions. Comedies that are really funny are nearly non-existent.
Here’s what I think you need for a good comedy:
- A good plot that is not necessarily outstanding (it’s the humor that is important), but it does have to be plausible.
- Jokes that relate to what is going on in the movie and not just thrown in for a cheap laugh.
- Knowing that just showing someone naked isn’t necessarily funny (although it might be).
- Realizing that it is perfectly acceptable for real laughs to be few and far between as long as they come from the gut.
- Knowing that a viewer may be fine watching utter crap at home, but when watching it at a movie theater surrounded by real people, can feel downright embarrassed and uncomfortable.
Not paying attention to these points is why most Adam Sandler, Jim Carey, Eddie Murphy, Rob Schneider, Kevin James, Ashton Kutcher, Will Ferrell, Rebel Wilson and yes, Melissa McCarthy, movies are terrible. But somehow, really, really horrible comedies are made every year—there must simply be a lot of movie people out there who think people laugh every time they hear a swear word or see someone’s pants fall down.
Using these points as a guideline, Spy is a funny movie—but not a great movie. Not Plane, Trains and Automobiles, The Big Lebowski, City Slickers, The Naked Gun, Blazing Saddles, funny, but enjoyable. It is worth going just to see how really good Melissa McCarthy can be when she has some decent material with which to work.
Note: I have to admit that I have not seen all of the films of every comedic actor I dished. I base my opinions on the fact that like every American, I get to watch hundreds of trailers each year, and can only guess that if the trailer is bad then the movie must really stink. I have also watched the first five minutes of a lot of bad comedy movies when they show on television.
“Comedy is the art of making people laugh without making them puke” – Steve Martin