Melissa McCarthy at her hilarious best in rollicking action comedy spoof

Reuniting with Paul Feig, her director in Bridesmaids and The Heat, Melissa McCarthy is at her hilarious best as a dumpy CIA analyst who becomes an unlikely field agent in the infectiously entertaining action comedy Spy, a rib-tickling espionage spoof that gives a confident female-centred spin to the traditionally ultra-masculine spy movie genre.

This is a very affectionate send-up, however, as is clear from the pitch-perfect John Barry-style music that plays over the opening credits and introduces us to Jude Law’s dashing 007-type agent in the midst of an international mission.

Barely a hair out of place, Law’s debonair Bradley Fine dodges his enemies with such unruffled aplomb because he has McCarthy’s shrewd deskbound analyst Susan Cooper constantly in his ear, remotely guiding him through the perils that beset him at every turn. Even so, the mission ends in disaster and in its aftermath Susan unexpectedly emerges from behind her basement desk in Langley to go to Europe in a bid to track down a stolen nuclear bomb.

Spy - Melissa McCarthy as Susan Cooper

As Susan hops from Paris to Rome to Budapest in pursuit of her target, Rose Byrne’s Rayna Boyanov, the daughter of an Eastern European arms dealer, the film duly ticks off and gently ribs a series of spy-genre tropes, including the obligatory interlude in a glamorous casino. The incongruity of finding the unassuming Susan in these surroundings is a large part of the fun, with the frumpy undercover identities she is obliged to adopt rendering her even more out of place.

The comic scrapes she gets into are performed with slapstick gusto, yet McCarthy’s heroine is never made ridiculous. Indeed, the story gives equal weight to her emotional journey, as she rises to the mission’s challenges, gains confidence and proves her worth to those around her. And the film’s good-humoured generosity extends to the other characters as well, even Bryne’s impossibly haughty villain.

Jason Statham has a blast sending up his hard-nut image, playing an agent whose overweening confidence in his own abilities is hopelessly at odds with reality. Allison Janney delivers a drily deadpan turn as a CIA spymaster and Miranda Hart is genially bumbling as the fellow desk jockey who joins Susan in the field. But this is McCarthy’s show and Spy finds her on peerless form.

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Certificate 15. Runtime 120 mins. Director Paul Feig.

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