BIG: Spy and Jurassic World


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Warning: SPOILERS
spyAre you having a bad day? Things not going well? Are you a bit down in the dumps?
Well, if you want to feel a bit better about yourself and life in general, I can hardly recommend a more effective drop of medicine than Spy, the new espionage comedy starring Melissa McCarthy as Susan Cooper, the unprepossessing agent’s assistant with the unprepossessing name who turns into one bad un-unprepossessing ass of a Jane Bond.
What can I say? I came out of the movie theater feeling wonderful, simply wonderful, ready to take on the vicissitudes of life and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune once again.
Now, I do have to be honest. Based on remarks I’ve seen on facebook, how you react to the movie will probably depend on how you feel about Ms. McCarthy. If you don’t like her particular brand of comedy persona, the movie may affect you more like a fallen soufflé.
I happen to think she’s an exploding nova of a comic talent.

And what an incredible vehicle she’s been given by writer/director Paul Feig. It’s a valentine of a role that fully exploits the whole range of her celluloid personalities: from the more diminutive mother type (as in the movie St. Vincent) to the in your face, take no prisoners type she revealed in Bridesmaids (also written and directed by Paul Feig and for which McCarthy received an Oscar nomination).

And she doesn’t have to shit in a sink this time round (though she has a great vomiting bit).

The basic plot revolves around a mousy assistant (Susan) who, via remote internet, guides the incredibly handsome, twinkle eyed and aptly named Bradley Fine (Jude Law) through his missions. Though Susan has one of those thankless tasks that never gets noticed or rewarded, she’s indispensable to Fine’s success, especially when the mission goes somewhat of a tad awry (one of the funnier opening oopsies I’ve seen in awhile). Fine can’t survive without Susan, but Fine is, well, really “fine” while Susan is, well, “susany”, and in the end, it’s Fine who gets all the glory.

However, when Fine’s latest mission ends in his death, the organization must send someone to complete his job, preventing the sale of nuclear bomb. But they need to send someone who is an unknown, so Susan volunteers and a reluctant chief (that reincarnation of Eve Arden, Allison Janney) allows her to go and she’s soon swept up in a series of adventures, both mis and not, that takes her all over the glamour spots of Europe.

There’s a kind of under the surface joke here. McCarthy, who is not the smallest of women, is sent in under various guises. But Mcarthy is hardly someone who can be easily disguised (it’s like sending in someone eight feet tall and then trying to make him blend into the crowd).

But that’s one of the intriguing aspects of the movie. Never is her physical size made an obvious joke. It’s often there threatening to break through the water, but Feig works very hard not to make fun of her voluptuousness or exploit it for laughs (or if he does, he does it in a positive way—when Susan first arrives in Rome in her cat woman—and I don’t mean Batman Catwoman—clothes, the locals insult here; but later on, when she strides out in one hell of a sexy pants suit with her hair and cape flowing ala a Calvin Klein commercial, the same locals wolf whistle).

Feig knows that McCarthy is just plain damn funny, and knows why she’s funny, and doesn’t have to depend on her looks to make people chortle as many other writer/directors might. And just as important, perhaps, he knows that she is also sexy, and knows why she is sexy, and knows how to use that as well (this is not a movie where the laughs are based on a heavy set woman not able to get laid, but gets jokes on the men trying to lay her, but getting turned down).

But it’s not all McCarthy. This is one incredibly well cast movie that’s reminiscent of old studio films that often had a genius for who to slot into supporting roles. There’s probably not a bad bit of casting in the film no matter how small the role (and McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone has a nice punch line as a tourist asking for directions).

Feig gives them all something to do. They’re not there just for decoration or to make McCarthy look good. He’s very generous to everyone involved.

And McCarthy works brilliantly with every last one of them. I don’t think I’ve seen this much chemistry between so many different actors in years. No matter who she has a scene with, the connection is electrifyingly palpable (down to a poor assistant that Susan almost brings to tears).

However, the stand out has to be Jason Statham as Rick Ford, a very funny parody on the macho roles he usually plays (he can’t stop talking about how great he is and the amazing deeds he’s done, including sewing back on an arm that was torn off, a statement that Susan greets with a tossed off, “I don’t think that’s possible”). He seems to be having the time of his life making fun of himself. And he and McCarthy have the final morning after joke that turns such morning after jokes on their head.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of those rare tent pole films where there is just about nothing that doesn’t work.

With Miranda Hart (who plays Miranda in the TV show Miranda) as Nancy, McCarthy’s BFF; Rose Byrne as Rayna, the mean girl bad guy (and when she and McCarthy go head to head with their “fuck you” dialog, it’s comedy heaven); Bobby Cannavale as Sergio, the man with the bomb; and Peter Serafinowicz, who steals his scenes as an over amorous Italian.

jurassic worldAfter I saw Omar Sy in the movie The Intouchables (the French film for which he won the Cesar Award for best actor—that country’s equivalent to our Oscar), I was accosted in the lobby by a French media group who wanted to know what I thought of the actor.

I said I thought he was wonderful.

They then asked if he should be brought to the U.S. to make movies. I said something to the effect that since we treat our black actors rather badly here, I’m not sure I would wish that on him.

And now we have Mssr. Sy co-starring in Jurassic World as Barry, the assistant to our hero, Owen.

Hamilton Burger, I rest my case.

Not only was Sy brought to our shores to play one of those thankless second fiddles to lead actors not as good as he is, the writer/director/producer didn’t have the decency to kill him off in the first thirty minutes as they did to Juliette Binoche in Godzilla so he could return to France and make better movies with better filmmakers.

I know I’m in the minority here (based on what I read on facebook and other media sources), but I have to say it: I don’t know how you can make the worse Jurassic Park movie ever, even worse than the third one with Sam Neill and William H. Macy, but these people somehow have managed to do it.

Yeah, there, I said it, so what you are you going to do about it.

It’s filled with bland to non-existent characters; clunky dialog; and a plot that just gets dumb and dumberer the closer it nears the end.

The basic premise of this latest installment of the franchise, is about the same as most movies like this: when man plays God, it comes back to bite him in the ass, unless he is really unlucky and it eats you whole.

There’s now a new theme park that has been in existence for a number of years and on the surface seems to have worked out all the kinks of the previous park such that there have been no fatalities since it has opened.

But in one of many self-references to the older movie, as well as movie-making itself, the park has to put up or shut up. It has to keep making new rides and bigger exhibits and stranger dinosaurs, like this movie, in order to get people to spend money on them. Damn the quality of the dinosaur (or the movie), bigger is better if you want to make tons of money.

So of course, they create a hybrid dinosaur that can reason on a higher level than any other animal in the history of the world (other than man) and who can plan a prison break much cleverer and much more successfully than Clint Eastwood in Escape From Alcatraz.

It’s up to two intrepid heroes to stop this miniature Godzilla: Owen, an animal trainer in faux Indiana Jones clothes, and Claire, who manages the park and can run in heels like no one has ever run in heels since woman started wearing them.

Well, actually, based on the barely filled in characters, it’s up to two of the more standard stereotypes of recent films: the overaged frat boy who keeps making double entendres and the cold, emotionless businesswoman who feels unfulfilled because she’s not a mother.

No, I’m not kidding. And there’s more.

Basically the plot is about a Chinese-American scientist who creates this monster at the behest of an Indian millionaire, resulting in the intervention of one of those Black Ops group that only exists in movies, creating a situation of which only the whitest of a white hero can save the day, though with the help of a black sidekick.

Now, I’m not saying that any of this was purposeful on the part of the producers. In fact, some of these choices were probably made for pure economic reasons: casting actors that would appeal to people in other countries. And to be honest, if the movie was any good, I probably wouldn’t have cared.

But when I just can’t get into a film like this and not only keep thinking how awful it is, but sit in the audience, mouth agape at just how truly terrible it is, these sorts of thoughts creep into my viewing and leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

Oh, oh, yes, wait, there’s also two kids who are sent there sans parents to get them out of the way while the adults get down to business and break up the family. Jesus, play God and this is what you get.

Actually, I often think that social services should consider stepping in and taking children away from any parent stupid enough to send their children to such a theme park after what happened in the earlier movies. Rarely does parenting get any worse than that.

As I said, there are no real characters here, which means that the actors have to step up and do what isn’t there in the first place, and I’m afraid that Chris Pratt as Owen and Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire just don’t quite manage. They’ve both been excellent in other films, but they simply have nothing to work with here and they can’t rise above what their given.

There’s really only one well acted character in the film and that is Lowery, a computer nerd who has a thing for a fellow worker. Played by Jake Johnson, he’s the only one on screen that really comes alive. At the same time, well, he is IT, so the movie has to end his through line with a joke at his expense—bullying and making fun of nerds is alive and well in Jurassic World, I guess.

The basic outline of the plot is fine. But it gets more and more cynical and stupider the more it goes along. The high point of the cynicism has to be the attack of the pterodactyls on the unsuspecting park visitors waiting to leave.

The film wants its cake and to eat it to: the ancient creatures attack, but no one is shown dying; in fact no one is shown seriously injured. There’s no real humanity here or depth of feeling for the victims being attacked. It’s just filmmakers wanting to have the audience react in horror at something on screen without really making it horrifying.

There’s even one bit here that sort of flummoxed me. The two kids were giving a British guide to oversee their visit. This guide gets taken up by the pterodactyls and thrown from creature to creature until she is dropped alive in the water. It seemed a cruel thing to do to her in the first place, but the scene is so tone deaf I turned to my friend and asked whether it was supposed to be funny or not—he wasn’t sure.

In other words, the filmmakers cheat as far as I’m concerned.

As the finale approaches its finalization, the filmmakers throw in some mumbo jumbo about bonds, almost of the mystical kind (I wouldn’t know how else to explain them), between animals as well as between Owen and some raptors. If you believe any of this preposterous claptrap, I have the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge in my pocket.

With B.D. Wong (of Law & Order: SVU) as Dr. Henry Wu; the wonderful Irrfan Khan (of The Lunchbox and Life of Pi) as Simon Masrani, the owner of the park; Nick Robinson (The Kings of Summer) and Ty Simpkins as the kids; and Vincent D’Onofrio, who probably gives the second best performance, as the head of the mysterious Black Ops group.

Directed by Colin Trevorrow who directed the sweet and nifty Safety Not Guaranteed, proving the adage that no good deed goes unpunished—help make a movie that has some originality and shows talent and you get a movie like this as a follow up.

The screenplay has four writers. It feels like it.

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4 Comments

  1. Spot on. On both movies. Although I thought the British guide was eaten along with the pterodactyl. I won’t argue the point or, God forbid, watch the movie again to see if/when I missed her being dropped safely into the water because, sadly, like most of the characters I didn’t care what happened to her.

    The movie seemed to follow the ‘more cowbell’ approach to entertainment and apparently audiences love their cowbell.

  2. Howard, I agree with your review. Saw both films. Loved Spy. Fresh, witty, funny etc… Also saw JW. Ugh! Boring. Predictable. Tired. Awkwardly placed love scenes. Spielberg must really be into recycling because everything in this story (dialog and structure) has been done in one of his previous scripts.

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