The absurdist genre-spoof comedy that hit its apex with cult classics like ZAZ’s Airplane & Top Secret has sadly become a dying art in recent years. Titles like Not Another Disaster Movie & Scary Movie 19 have tarnished the genre’s cultural cachet and more or less reduced its target audience to twelve year old boys who are emotionally stunted even for twelve year old boys. There have been a couple great exceptions in the past decade that give me hope for the genre’s future, though. The Judd Apatow comedy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, while posed as a spoof of the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, was a brilliant take-down of the entire biopic genre. Walk Hard somehow included every single biopic cliché & American genre of music into one silly, but intellectually extensive spoof. The Will Forte vehicle MacGruber did more or less the same thing with the violent action flick genre that saw its heyday in the 1980s. The difference is that instead of limiting itself to brilliant send-ups of films like Commando & Cobra, MacGruber went a step further and created one of the most vile, pathetic protagonists in all of cinema. Both Walk Hard & MacGruber breathed fresh air into the genre-spoof, but they’re just two titles in a sea of bad examples.
After a single viewing of Spy at the theater, I’m already confident enough to include it along with Walk Hard & MacGruber on the list of the best spoof movies of the past decade. Sure, the James Bond international spy genre has been spoofed before in movies like Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Casino Royale (1967), and Our Man Flint, but Spy distinguishes itself from its predecessors by feeling distinctly modern. There’s a self-aware, crass irreverence to the film that feels distinctly 2015. Although it’s riffing on an entirely different genre, Spy is very much in the vein of MacGruber more than it is in the very 90s Austin Powers. Besides the general crassness of its script & general improv-enhanced vibe of its sense of humor, Spy also continues MacGruber’s undermining of alpha male action movie types that turns the typical hero (this time as a frivolous side character hilariously played by Jason Statham as opposed to MacGruber’s central protagonist) into vile worms of the lowest order. As Statham’s misogynist prick brags to the main character that he is immune to 179 varieties of poison & can water-ski blindfolded, it’s easy to see how an exact MacGruber successor would’ve been born if he was the central character, but Spy is smart to leave him sidelined while the more morally-palatable, but just as crass Melissa McCarthy serves as a much more relatable audience surrogate.
McCarthy hit her creative peak for me last year with the goofy road trip comedy Tammy, which felt like a wonderful culmination of everything she’s been building towards since Paul Feig’s breakout comedy Bridesmaids. Feig, who also worked with McCarthy on the similarly crass buddy cop comedy The Heat, finds an entirely new kind of role for her to play in Spy. In Tammy, McCarthy was a complete mess, more raccoon than human in her thoughtless pursuit of laze-about surface pleasures. While I found that character incredibly charming, she was a far cry from the in-over-her-head every-woman McCarthy plays so well in Spy. There are flashes of Tammy’s feral nature in Spy, but they’re dialed back enough to allow McCarthy to shine though as a relatable human being. With Spy, Feig has not only created a modern classic in genre spoofery, but also helped to open a door for an incredibly talented comedic actress who’s more or less hit a typecasting wall she hasn’t been able to sidestep since her wonderful turn on Gilmore Girls nearly a decade ago. Let’s hope he can keep the productive streak going when he works with her on their fourth film in a row together, the all-female cast Ghostbusters reboot.