(Video on Demand, October 2015) By now, the Bond spy film formula has been spoofed, lampooned and deconstructed so often (even within the Bond series) that Bond-parodies have become a sub-genre in themselves. Spy arrives in this crowded field with a few advantages: Melissa McCarthy may have a divisive comic persona, but she’s absolutely shameless in getting whatever laughs she can, and when you have the production budged to get both Jude Law and Jason Statham as comic foils, it’s already a step up from the usual B-grade effort. So it is that director Paul Feig tries his damnedest to deliver a polished Bond parody, and does score a good number of laughs along the way. His action scenes may not be as good as they could be (although there is a pretty good kitchen fight late in the film) but Spy does have a reasonable veneer of big-budget polish. McCarthy isn’t entirely annoying as a CIA desk agent compelled to become a field operative, but Jason Statham steals the show as an insane and ineffective parody of the kind of action hero he often plays. (Rose Byrne and Peter Serafinowicz also shine in smaller roles.) Otherwise, Spy gets a lot of mileage out of combining puerile humor with its spy subject matter, although the deconstruction/reconstruction mechanism is very familiar by now. It does feel a bit long (something that probably wasn’t helped by seeing the slightly-longer and more digressive “unrated version”) but there is a decent amount of plot to go with the improvised jokes. While Spy doesn’t break as much tradition as it thinks it does, it remains a decent comedy, a fair showcase for McCarthy and a step up for Feig, whose direction seems to improve slightly with every film.
(On TV, July 2015) The best and worst thing about Couples Retreat is how resolutely predictable it can be. A fairly traditional (albeit PG-13-rated glancing at R) Hollywood comedy about matrimonial reconciliation, it relies heavily on the comic persona of its lead actors: Jason Bateman plays the straight-man with a bit of unpleasantness lurking at the edge of his personality; Vince Vaughn plays the overgrown-frat boy loudmouth; Jon Favreau is a lout… and so on. Characters are established early and seldom deviate from their broad personalities, the reconciliatory ending is a foregone conclusion and the gags along the way tend to be fairly obvious. Much of the details are inane bordering on moronic (I’m still figuring out why Guitar Hero would need a dedicated salesman) but the film goes have the “tropical retreat romantic comedy” atmosphere in the tradition of Just Go With It, Blended or Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Even though most jaded viewers may not appreciate the leisurely pace of characters on holidays, there’s a little bit of vicarious living in spending an hour or so in tropical settings. The main players are up to themselves: Bateman and Vaughn don’t really stretch their persona, but Jean Reno makes for a fun self-help guru while Peter Serafinowicz has a small but hilarious role as a demanding host. All of the film’s slight qualities don’t manage to make it stand out as anything but a middle-of-the road kind of comedy. There was potential for something a bit more unnerving (a comparison between trailer and final film suggests that at least one risqué subplot was cut out –although a reference to realized infidelity stays in the film and comes as a bit of a surprise.) but in the end embraces traditional values. And yet, as predictable Couples Retreat can be, it’s also comforting in a way.