SPY. When Bridesmaids (2011) dropped and blew up I, like everyone else, applauded its success. In hindsight, though, there was and is something disingenuous, something backhanded about much of the praise lavished on it. It seems to me that many viewers, particularly those with, shall we say less refined comic taste, liked the movie because it took them by surprise. Somehow, this far along into human history, people still don't seem to realize that women can be/are funny. This may be why I didn't greet Bridesmaids with the same raucous, shocked enthusiasm as so many others. To my jaundiced eye, it is a funny if conventional studio comedy. Yes, the cast is dominated by females, but so what? I suppose I am a bit of a bleeding-heart feminist, but that's beside the point. Of course women are funny, of course women can carry a mainstream comedy.
But not everyone shares my opinions — often for the best, I think we can all agree — and so director Paul Feig has carved himself a comfortable, lucrative little niche in Hollywood. And made Melissa McCarthy a movie star in the process. After Bridesmaids, they reteamed on The Heat (2013), an underrated if not excellent riff on buddy cop comedies. (Incidentally, both were written by women). At that point a pattern was developing, but I was too blind to see it. Now Feig, this time working from his own script, has McCarthy back in the lead with his version of a feminist (post-feminist?) spy spoof. On first viewing, my takeaway: These last three Feig movies have landed well because they all bow to genre convention, except in the casting. Even Bridesmaids, the script for which was more nuanced and humane than most wedding comedies, got its biggest laughs from an extended diarrhea sequence. Placed in the context of a stupid dude movie, that scene would likely have played funny, probably just gross. But in situ, we treat it as a milestone for the women's movement; I wonder.
Spy takes us into Feig's version of the world of international espionage. McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a dowdy but capable CIA agent. She works behind the scenes at headquarters in Langley, serving as eye in the sky and voice in the earpiece to super-suave superspy Bradley Fine (Jude Law), on whom she has a serious crush. When villainous arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), who also reveals that she knows the identities of the Agency's other field agents, takes Fine down in the field, Cooper is tapped to go undercover. In order to make this at all plausible, Feig feeds us some generally palatable background: Because Cooper is unassuming and has never been in the field, she won't be recognized as CIA. Also she has exceptional hand-to-hand combat skills. The job takes our protagonist across Europe, shadowing Boyanov as she closes in on the sale of portable nuclear device. Evil henchmen abound, particularly with the introduction of dapper black marketeer Sergio De Luca (Bobby Cannavale) and his crew. Before long, Cooper is getting bloody, her job further complicated by the presence of CIA-field-agent-gone-rogue Rick Ford (Jason Statham, doing a delightfully funny send-up of almost every other character he's ever played) and her nervous officemate Nancy (Miranda Hart).
McCarthy is beyond charismatic, and her comic timing is impeccable, so she is able to carry what would probably otherwise be a bit of a non-starter. In the early going, Feig gets a little more visually ambitious than in previous work, which is in keeping with the globe-trotting, Baccarat-crystal genre. The aesthetic and the action become increasingly conventional until the big finish comes along, more whimper than bang. To be fair, Spy is consistently funny and most assuredly R-rated, mostly for language and violence, but also for what the MPAA calls "graphic nudity" in a sequence involving a henchman's, um, selfies. Still, the Feig formula is starting to feel a little parlor-tricky. Yes, this is a clever, big-budget take on the spy comedy. And, yes, it's great McCarthy is the lead, but at the end of the day it is still very much a Hollywood product designed for mass appeal. R. 120m.
ENTOURAGE. One could easily paint this as antithetical to what Feig is doing over in his camp, a reaction to the feminizing of genre but ... well, no buts about it. Entourage is (and I should clarify that I've never watched the show) proudly phallocentric, a celebration of the occasionally sensitive but please, not too sensitive, male ego. A case could be made that it is a self-aware wink at insider Hollywood culture, but to call it satire would be assigning undue credit.
The movie catches us up with A-lister Vinnie Chase (Adrian Grenier) who, on the heels of an exceptionally short marriage, decides he wants to direct a feature. He gathers his crew of flunkies and his former-manager-turned-studio-head Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) and sets out to spend $100 million-plus on a post-apocalyptic Jekyll and Hyde picture. When he goes over budget, it attracts the attention of the Texas money (Billy Bob Thornton), who dispatches his unbalanced son (Haley Joel Osment) to LA as his watchdog. There's some baby mama drama, some studio politics and a great number of statuesque women in various states of undress. It's a good enough time, if redundant, rambling and formless. R. 104m.
— John J. Bennett
JURASSIC WORLD. Dinosaur theme park? Sure, that'll work out fine. Again. With Chris Pratt fighting off the feisty fossils. PG13. 124m.
ALOHA. Quality players Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone and Rachel McAdams are stuck with thin characters and a hot mess of a plot in a pretty place. PG13. 105m.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. A big, cacophonous superhero sequel with a stellar cast, Director Joss Whedon's trademark quippy writing and serious meditations on human nature. PG13. 141m.
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3. A prequel to the creepiness with a girl beset by spirits and a psychic who comes to her aid. PG13. 114m.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Wildly intense action and chases do the original proud, plus an added heart and intelligence in the story and the well-crafted characters. With Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. R. 120m.
PITCH PERFECT 2. Nothing new in the world of singing underdog comedies, but it delivers the laughs and musical numbers. Elizabeth Banks directs and joins the onscreen fun with Anna Kendrick and John Michael Higgins. PG13. 115m.
SAN ANDREAS. A typical disaster-and-popcorn movie with all the clichés, but it works, thanks in no small part to the charm of star Dwayne Johnson. PG13. 114m.
TOMORROWLAND. Disneyland with George Clooney — all your dreams come true. Young geniuses and an inventor travel through time in a sci-fi family adventure. PG. 130m.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill