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Cinema: Spy & Survivor

Melissa McCarthy in Spy
Melissa McCarthy in Spy

SPY (15)
4 stars
Oscar-nominated actress Melissa McCarthy reunites with Bridesmaids writer-director Paul Feig for an action-packed mission, which would leave James Bond decidedly shaken and stirred by its unorthodox approach to 21st-century espionage.

Punctuated by thrilling chases and a frenetic knife fight in a restaurant kitchen, Spy is a terrifically entertaining caper, jam-packed with belly laughs and foul-mouthed outbursts.

The hijinks are underpinned by another winning performance from McCarthy as a deskbound analyst at the CIA, who is championed for her moist homemade cakes rather than her sharp intellect.

Brains arm-wrestles brawn in Feig’s politically incorrect and uproarious script, including an amusing cameo from rapper 50 Cent as himself and a juicy supporting role for Miranda Hart.

While the leading lady proves her doubters wrong in the name of world peace, Jason Statham lampoons his tough-guy screen image as a CIA operative, who was clearly at the shallow end of the gene pool when they were doling out intelligence. One wordy scene – perhaps the most dialogue Statham has ever delivered in a single take – is a particular highlight.

McCarthy and Jude Law in the new film

Suave secret agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) completes some of the Agency’s most dangerous missions thanks to the quick-thinking and hi-tech gadgetry of analyst Susan Cooper (McCarthy).

He takes all of the acclaim, while Susan remains firmly in the background, haunted by her controlling mother’s mangled mantra: “Well-behaved women do make history.”

When Bradley and the other agents, including British bruiser Rick Ford (Statham), are compromised, Susan puts herself forward for active duty to infiltrate the inner circle of arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne).

CIA deputy director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) places her trust in Susan to complete the perilous mission without any field experience.

“Track and report only,” instructs Elaine.

Guided by her dithering colleague Nancy Artingstall (Hart), Susan adopts a series of dowdy disguises to get close to Rayna without arousing suspicion.

“I look like someone’s homophobic aunt,” remarks Susan about one of her fake personas.

As Rayna prepares to sell a stolen device to Sergio De Luca (Bobby Cannavale), Susan throws caution to the wind to avert global disaster.

Opening with an extended action sequence and Saul Bass-inspired opening titles, replete with a Bond-esque thunderous ballad, Spy is a rip-roaring treat.

McCarthy throws herself into her role with gusto, mixing steeliness with lovability as she battles armed henchmen, speeds after a target on a scooter and tries to stop a bad guy from escaping in his helicopter.

Hart essentially plays herself, but she’s a snug fit amidst a strong Anglo-American cast, who deliver Feig’s zinging one-liners with tongues wedged firmly in cheek.

The spirit of 007 pervades every glossy frame, but with old-school chauvinism turned on its head to affirm a message of girl power and independence.

 

Pierce Brosnan as The Watchmaker in Survivor
Pierce Brosnan as The Watchmaker in Survivor

 

SURVIVOR (12A)
2 stars
Pierce Brosnan’s glory days as suave secret agent James Bond are a long and distant memory, which grows considerably fonder with each improbable twist and turn in Survivor.

Originally entitled Alchemy, James McTeigue’s explosive-laden spy thriller uses the covert war on terrorism since the September 11 attacks as a wobbly framework for a predictable game of cat and mouse between a fearless US agent and a sadistic assassin on the streets of London.

Brosnan sheds his nice guy persona to play the sharp-shooting villain, who has had so much reconstructive surgery that nobody knows what he looks like any more.

It’s a throwaway line of dialogue to explain why the striking Irish actor can swan around the capital, leaving destruction and bullet-riddled bodies in his wake, without fear of capture, while statuesque co-star Milla Jovovich is tracked by almost every CCTV camera.

Her ability to emerge unscathed from a hail of bullets during the film’s action sequences is one of many perplexing questions that remain unanswered by Philip Shelby’s flimsy script.

Director McTeigue, who previously razed London in the 2005 dystopian fantasy V For Vendetta, seems content to demolish a few more city blocks and ignore gaping holes in the plot.

Security expert Kate Abbott (Milla Jovovich) is drafted to the US embassy in London by her mentor, Ambassador Maureen Crane (Angela Bassett), to identify visa applicants who pose a threat to homeland security.

Intuition tells Kate to look closer into Romanian doctor Emil Balan (Roger Rees), who wants to visit America to attend a medical conference.

She delays his visa application with the backing of section chief Sam Parker (Dylan McDermott) and investigates further, aided by four ambitious interns (Antonia Thomas, Sean Teale, Rege-Jean Page, Jing Lusi).

An elusive hit man known as The Watchmaker (Brosnan) is hired to eliminate Kate in order to expedite Balan’s visa application, which is part of a bigger plot to inflict massive damage on American soil.

The first attempt on Kate’s life fails and video evidence falsely implicates her in the terrorist atrocity.

Hunted by The Watchmaker and Inspector Paul Anderson (James D’Arcy), Kate defies embassy survival protocol to evade capture and defuse the terrorists’ hydrogen, methane and fluorine bomb.

Survivor is a generic battle of patriotic Americans versus nasty foreigners that casts Jovovich in her familiar role as a one-woman killing machine.

Brosnan’s lacklustre performance remains in the shadow of a fake moustache that occasionally crawls across his upper lip, while Frances de la Tour fleshes out a thankless supporting role as a techno-wizard, who affirms Kate’s innocence.

Set-pieces are solid if unremarkable, including bruising fist fights between the two leads.

The picture’s 48-hour timeframe and a threat of six-digit casualties should generate a far greater sense of urgency than McTeigue accomplishes.

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