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Spy (2015)

September 15, 2015 Leave a comment

Spy (2015) PosterWritten and directed by Paul Feig Spy is about a CIA assistant who gets placed in the field in an effort to stop the sale of a nuclear device.  From the poster the film looked like it would be a dull, unfunny and generally unremarkable film. On watching though this cynical assumption turned out to be entirely untrue and I am pleased that I was wrong.

As seems to be the flavour at the moment Spy is a spoof spy film, paying homage to tropes that have becomes synomomous with spy films from the start of the 00’s and earlier, before they became gritty like Casino Royale (2006) and the Bourne films (2002 onwards). There are fights, gadgets, quips and explosions but they are mostly tongue in cheek. It is nice that the film does not mock the genre to the point it becomes a farce ala Austin Powers International Man of Mystery (1997), instead it leaves some elements where the comedy is dialed back and some well acted scenes are allowed to come to the forefront. This is often the action scenes which serve as pleasant palette cleansers between story advancement and moments of more brevity and light-heartness.

In the action scenes the film seems to have drawn influence from Jackie Chan films, featuring physical comedy in physical combat, placing a frying pan on her head to deflect a knife stab while pulling a slight face is an example of such. The comedy is also brought from the excellent casting of Jason Statham who plays a caricature of himself, a gruff agent who is self assured, confident but whom is not quite as good as he would imagine himself and combined with his blue language drew laughter on multiple occasions. [Also any film that references Face/Off (1997) gets some early appreciation from me.]

The casting of the film is also one which raised a few eyebrows as they were announced, while Jude Law as a super smooth covert operative is not surprising or shocking the British cast who made it into the film was. Miranda Hart and Peter Serafinowicz both took fabulous roles and helped lift the film as the friend and very hands-on Itialian agent respectively. It is pleasing to see strong performances by Brits in American films without them being type-cast. [It is possible that there are some other Brits I have failed to notice but, C’est la vie.] Mellissa McCarthy taking the titular role as the Spy fitted it brilliantly, her timing was great and when she had to appear crest-fallen she pulled it off with great poise though she has many moments of mirth in the film.

The film is not a particularly complex one, but it does not set out to be one, it is entertaining though and one which could be re-visited at a later date. While it may lack the star power of Kingsmam: The Secret Service (2014) the film is more restrained in its asperations, aping the level of threat of Mission: Impossible (1996) opposed to GoldenEye (1995), with a more modest and real level of danger the movie seems to laughing with its source material rather than at it.

It is funny, has some good bits of action and does not take it self too seriously. If you are after an action film and want something light and a bit different pick up Spy and have a watch.

[The music for the film also featured a performance from the 2007 Ukraine Eurovision Song Contest, causing me great amusement and led to me playing the song on a trip I took to Edinburgh.]

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Categories: Films Tags: , , , ,

3 Days to Kill (2014)

3 days to kill posterCIA agent falls ill on a mission, discovers that he has terminal cancer and goes to spend his last days with his estranged daughter and wife.  While in Paris he is contacted by a CIA handler who wants him to finish his last mission, in exchange for some sort of miracle/experimental drug.  The film then follows Ethan (Kevin Costner) as he attempts to mend his relationship with his daughter while hunting down The Wolf.

Now, when I saw trailers for this film I was given the impression that this was an action movie, some thing along the lines of a retired cop coming back for one last mission, with gun fights, action, explosions, car chases and one liners. This film instead decides to spend more time showing Ethan rebuilding his bond with Zooey, his daughter.  Now while I’m not against this type of drama being in an action film I don’t really want the central part of the film to be eaten up with it, nor did I really need to see Ethan kick a bunch of youths who are about to do unspeakable things to his drugged up daughter only to be told that she didn’t remember what was happening in the toilets.  The film seems to be two distinct parts, the CIA work parts, shooting and violence with some interesting quips along with some wired strip-tease theatre and the family man trying to make up for lost time with his daughter and wife.  Now either part on their own would have been okay and I guess I’m more upset that the film didn’t make it clearer to me that this wasn’t Taken or it could have been an attempt to describe the work life balance that these agents have and the fact that you can’t take this work home with you but it didn’t feel like a cohesive film to me.  It had the feel of two scripts mashed together to make an overly long film with some scenes that felt entirely out of place.

Lets talk about the action, once again the film feels disjointed here with some scenes showing highly efficient and blunt action, men getting shot once, going down and staying down, but then the film, for no reason other than plot reasons, will have characters escape from a situation that should have killed them, or at the very least resulted in them having some injury, being left unscathed.  This breaks immersion for me, I am happy for your characters in a film to be tough enough to hit by squarely by a speeding car, fall of a bridge onto a paved floor and be fine, but only if this is consistent with what I’ve previously seen.  Don’t allow your characters to do this after everyone else is incapacitated by a light punch, it seems cheap and feels it as well.

On the note of cheap, lets mention the product placement that is rampant in this film.  You’d have to be blind not to notice it and it, like the note on violence above, breaks my immersion in the film, it’s okay that no one says, “Peugeot” but you have Ethan drive one of their cars, buy his daughter one of their bikes and stick a giant poster on the walls of the Metro for the scene.  It’s the same as the way that Ethan’s Samsung phone keeps being in shot in a manner that just doesn’t feel natural.  The S4 or S5 is a common phone and it is great but the way it’s being held just looks like an advert which irks me because it doesn’t seem in character.  As Ethan collapses due to his brain cancer he pulls out his phone, and I think uses some voice command to dial his handler.  It just doesn’t seem in character, he could have used the just dialled list as she was the last person to ring him but no they use some ham-fisted move to place in a subtle pump for Samsung.

As we approach the end of this, another issue I had with the film is they dangle death just in front of Ethan simply so he can be persuaded to work for the CIA again. Ethan in one scene is being told he has a few months and will not see Christmas, well that doctor needs to hang his head in shame as some syringe with a mysterious liquid seems to keep Ethan alive, it’s probably stem-cell research combined with babies blood and unicorn saliva, hell it’ll probably let him see another millennia if that’s what the plot required.  The medicine existing is not my reason for being upset, it’s a mcguffin that keeps the story moving and gives Ethan a reason to work for the CIA again, my grievance is that once again it comes off as uninspired, it is used to give this happy ending to a man who should be terminal ill and instead because of this drug he is as healthy as a spring chick.

The scenery was generally good, I mean it’s Paris, the European equivalent of New York it seems, if some thing is going down over in Europe it’s probably going to be in Paris, it looked nice and there was good contrast between Ethan’s apartment and that of his partner, who it seems never got a divorce of had anything going on as she stayed married to this man despite moving across the world, a contrast of basic items and luxury, we didn’t get treated to an extended tour of Paris which is a change but no one used the Louvre as a ramp which is a negative in my mind.

Luc Besson has come a long way and while I often like his films this time I feel it missed it’s mark.  The plot as a whole is disjointed, the action mismatched and the characters for the most part not all that likeable, Ethan does have development but it honestly feels forced and rushed.  The side characters are interesting and provide some light relief, in fact the jokes made by the support cast are quite good, Besson shows his talent when you get moments like the French police being unhelpful and screaming while watching a football match on an old CRT.  These moments though are not enough to carry the film and it ultimately feels like it missed the mark and overstayed its welcome by about half an hour.

As a sub point the director is simply McG, who after looking up is a great producer, but as a director, I think he has room to develop.