Year 8, Day 76 - 3/16/16 - Movie #2,277
BEFORE: What a difference a day makes - just yesterday we were driving back from 2 days in Connecticut, filled with gambling, buffets, outlet mall shopping and high-class bowling, and today I was getting a root canal. It was scheduled for April 6, but there was a cancellation and they were able to move up my appointment. Gee, thanks, what a nice surprise. I mean, I know it has to be done, might as well get it over with and all that, but what a downer after a nice two-day trip. And this was just the surgery part with the drilling and the filling, I don't even get the crowns until next Friday, so my front tooth is still chipped for another week - because the guy who does the root canal doesn't also do the cosmetic dentistry, so I have to go back AGAIN. I'm sure someone's getting rich off of turning my dental work into a scheduling nightmare.
More troubles trying to record Jerry Lewis films tonight - once again, the TCM channel was off-line for several hours in the late-night/early am time period, so I missed another three films. I got "The Bellboy", but now that will be on the watchlist as a reminder that several other Jerry Lewis films failed to record, and so I'll have the option when I get there of tracking them down some other way. It can't be a coincidence that only THAT channel disappeared from the line-up between 11 pm and 2 am - either TCM is engaged in some bitter dispute with Time Warner over late night viewing rights, or else the ghost of Dean Martin just doesn't want me to watch any Jerry Lewis solo films.
Melissa McCarthy carries over from "Tammy", obviously.
THE PLOT: A desk-bound CIA analyst volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent global disaster.
AFTER: There have been many spoof films made in the spy genre - of course the most popular are films like "Austin Powers" and "Johnny English", but back in the day we also had "Top Secret!" and "Spy Hard" and before that there was "Our Man Flint" and the "Get Smart" TV show. Most of them hearken back to James Bond, of course, but it matters whether someone is doing a direct rip-off, or a parody, or in this case, just a general spy-themed comedy. Which unfortunately places it somewhere along the lines of "Spies Like Us", "Zoolander" or "The Man Who Knew Too Little".
What also matters is whether the central character is deadpan serious, or goofy but effective, or just plain clueless. And yes, those are different approaches to the same thing. Lord knows I had my share of clueless characters earlier this week with the "Brady Bunch" films, so I was glad to find out that the characters in this film are not completely in the dark about things. Because then you get a film like "The Man Who Knew Too Little", where Bill Murray thought he was surrounded by actors only pretending to be real spies, and you can only keep that charade going for so long.
Instead we're presented with real spies in this film, who know that they're spies, and they appear to be fairly decent ones. But here's the problem - there's just no consistency throughout the film. You can have competent spies (James Bond) or incompetent ones (Austin Powers), all I ask is that you keep them consistent. The characters in "Spy" seem to all change their abilities and attitudes every five minutes, which leads to many comic situations, but by the end, nobody can even remember which side they're on - and if they're confused, the audience is bound to be confused.
Don't get me wrong, I like reversals - you've got to have reversals, those little minor plot twists, because they often are the best way to show character growth AND surprise the audience here and there with a little shock effect. But just not this MANY - there are enough reversals in this film to make your head spin around, to the point where there's just not enough solid ground to lay down the foundation for a coherent story.
Starting at the beginning - we've got a main character who's competent at being an agent's assistant (their eyes and ears in the field), but then she's not so competent, because that agent gets himself killed. But then it's revealed that she IS competent, she's passed all of her training, she only worked as an assistant for 10 years because she was so attracted to that agent. But this also means that she's NOT competent, because she put her own dreams on hold to have a subservient job, which is an earmark of insecurity and self-doubt. But then she declares once again that she IS competent, and that she deserves to go out into the field to track down the agent's killer. But then as soon as she gets out on her assignment, she's wracked with self-doubt and declares that she's not ready, so once again, she's NOT competent.
I swear, this sort of back-and-forth thing goes on for the ENTIRE film, to the point of annoyance. Can't anything stay defined for more than 5 minutes without any backtracking? Here's a typical conversation between Susan, the competent/incompetent lead character, and Rick Ford, the more experienced (yet somehow also more accident-prone) rogue spy working the same case. Susan: "This is my case, get out of here, you're going to screw it up." Rick: "No, this is MY case, get out of here, you're going to screw it up." Susan: "No, this is MY case, get out of here, you're going to screw it up!" And so on, and so on. Every point gets argued, every little defining moment gets challenged, every fact revealed is dispelled later on - in the end I couldn't put my finger on anything that didn't add up to sheer nonsense.
There's a character who's an Italian agent, and acts in a very stereotypical Italian way, and then at the end he suddenly has an English accent, OK, so he was an English agent under cover, that's honestly a bit clever, I thought. No, wait, he was only kidding, he was just pretending to be an English agent pretending to be an Italian agent. God, this was more confusing than the gender-bending in "Victor/Victoria", with a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman.
Other variations on this abound, with more reversals leading to story problems. First Susan wants to kill the female villain, then she's told to stay away from her, so naturally she goes looking for her. Then when she finds her, her first instinct is to kill her, but she sees someone trying to poison her, so this leads to her alerting her and saving her life. Huh? That doesn't logically follow. Sure, it leads to gaining her trust and this turns out to be a positive move, but she didn't know that at the time. Plus, like everything else in this film, it's a plotline that only lasts for a few minutes before the rules all change again anyway.
Plus, and I wasn't going to go there, but my hand is forced - is she shy or is she bold? Is she smart or is she inexperienced? Is she athletic or is she overweight? She simply can't be all of these things at once, and a story shouldn't require a character to try and cover so many bases.
In the midst of it all, there are also a few jokes that go absolutely nowhere. For some reason, the CIA headquarters is infested with mice, and then bats. To what end? First off, I don't believe that a high-tech organization like the CIA would not have any budget to keep themselves vermin-free, and then assuming that there was some kind of infestation, why wouldn't they deal with this problem quickly and efficiently? Ok, maybe it's funny to someone to see some bats flying around (not to me) but even as a joke, it's a joke without a punchline or a payoff. So there are bats in CIA headquarters, so what?
It seemed like the film was trying to have it both ways, to have genuine action sequences AND also be taken as a comedy. Nope, you can't have your cake and eat it too. You've got to either go full parody, like "Austin Powers", or else play it straight. Oh, and NITPICK POINT, I know you're trying to make fun of a Bond film, but that doesn't make it OK to cast so many British people as CIA agents. Sure, it's possible that the CIA might recruit some Brits, but I'd imagine most U.S. spies would speak like Americans.
Well, I had some REAL spy/action films about a week ago, with the "Olympus Has Fallen" films, and more are on the way this month, after a few more comedies.
Also starring Jude Law (last seen in "Anna Karenina"), Jason Statham (last seen in "The Expendables 3"), Allison Janney (also carrying over from "Tammy"), Rose Byrne (last seen in "28 Weeks Later"), Bobby Cannavale (last seen in "The Night Listener"), Peter Serafinowicz, Michael McDonald, Morena Baccarin, Miranda Hart, Will Yun Lee (last seen in "The Wolverine"), Julian Miller, Nargis Fakhri, with cameos from Ben Falcone (also carrying over from "Tammy"), 50 Cent (last seen in "Escape Plan").
RATING: 5 out of 10 phony passports