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Sunday 11 December 2016

Reviews: Spy, Survivor, Insidious

Spy hits the mark while Survivor and Insidious don't fare out quite so well

Spy

Comedy/Action. Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Jason Statham, Miranda Hart, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale. Director: Paul Feig. Cert: 15A

Paul Feig’s recent run as a director is the stuff of Hollywood dreams. Bridesmaids proved to be an industry game-changer, while The Heat was a rapturously received cop romp with oodles of laughs.

As such, Feig has likely been handed the keys to the castle. Movie financiers deem him a safe pair of hands… and boy, is he ever going to have fun with those wallet-busting budgets.

If the abundance of posters in my local cinema is anything to go by, Spy is one of Fox’s big movies of the summer, and it’s likely that it will hit box-office gold this weekend. As well it might: Feig and lead Melissa McCarthy have struck up a very fine cinematic partnership.

Spy is pitched somewhere between a send-up of the Bond/Jason Bourne franchises; the opening credits unfold against the familiar swell of a sexy, epic ballad. But it’s no common-or-garden spoof. Sure, it subverts the male-dominated genre, but as a film in its own right, it has more heart and soul than either.

The action kicks off, improbably enough, in Bulgaria, where oily spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law) has been despatched on a mission. He is rather nimble with the shoot-outs and the karate chops… but only thanks to a voice in his earpiece.

Back in CIA headquarters, desk jockey Susan Cooper (McCarthy) doles out the instructions that keep him good at his job. While Fine gets the glamorous gigs, Susan is dealing with office vermin and the humdrum of workaday life. Susan moons over Fine like a lovesick puppy; he presumes she likes cupcakes and has lots of cats.

However, a leak puts paid to the missions of the agency’s best known agents, meaning that an unknown has to be despatched to enter the field and find the owners of a nuclear bomb, of which one is the very dangerous Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne). The Oxford-educated daughter of a despot, Boyanov looks like Middle Eastern royalty, orders up assassinations like others ask for martinis, and swears like a fishwife.

Thanks to a slew of aliases (Avon lady, Ohio tourist), Susan is sent to Paris to view them from afar (contact with the baddies is strictly verboten). It’s not long, of course, before curiosity and ambition get the better of her and she is rumbled… and that’s when a sticky situation becomes even worse (if fun for us).

Eventually, however, the formerly meek office mouse becomes a kick-ass dynamo.

The laughs don’t come full-pelt, but when they do, they are immensely gratifying and hearty (actual, proper LOL count: about 5. Not bad).

On first glance, the cast list looks as though someone threw a very large shepherd’s crook into a BATFA awards ceremony and yanked out a handful of randomers, but they work mighty well together.

Jason Statham injects plenty of menace to the frustrated agent Rick Ford (and is afforded some comedy wiggle-room too, for a change), while Byrne — another Feig regular — has a couple of choice moments, too.

But McCarthy, with her impeccable comic timing and gloriously expressive face, is Spy’s first, last and everything.

It’s impossible to deny that McCarthy shows up in the same sort of role time and time again (as with Rebel Wilson, I feel McCarthy needs to bust out a more serious, arthouse part soon to really show her verve and range). But Feig is clearly of the mindset that if it ain’t broke, don’t tamper with it.

He brings out the big guns, quite literally, with some truly nerve-jangling action scenes. Best of all, Spy looks as though it was heaps of fun to make.

That sort of joy always shows up in the finished product, and you can’t say fairer than that.

Rating: ****

Survivor

Action/Thriller. Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Milla Jovovich, Dylan McDermott, Paddy Wallace, Frances de La Tour, Angela Basset, Antonia Thomas, Sean Teale. Director: James McTeigue. Cert: 12A

Survivor.jpg
Survivor

Preventing yet more terrorist attacks this week is Milla Jovovich, though she is an entirely different, much less colourful beast to McCarthy.

Jovovich plays Kate Abbott, a foreign service officer in London attempting to prevent an attack set to hit New York.

Things move up a notch when Abbott is implicated in a restaurant bombing that she didn’t commit, forcing her to the front of a breakneck cat-and-mouse chase where she not only has to prove her innocence, but stop the terrorists, too.

Talk about a rough day at work. Alas, she has some pretty big obstacles in her way, including The Watchmaker (Pierce Brosnan), the most deadly assassin around. Clearly he’s not that deadly, as he takes several shots at Kate throughout the movie and misses every time.

To be fair to Brosnan, he brings plenty of malevolence to the nefarious fixer, but he hasn’t much to work with.

Helmed by the director of V for Vendetta, Survivor has the makings of a decent cinematic romp. Jovovich, Brosnan, Dylan McDermott and Angela Bassett are all highly watchable actors… or at least they are in the right roles.

As a director, McTeigue appears to favour style over substance, but not fleshing out the characters becomes the film’s ultimate downfall.

We’re used to seeing Jovovich play kick-ass in her husband’s Resident Evil franchise, but it’s hard to care too much about her fate here, even with a barely-there 9/11-flavoured backstory lurking. The bombs, chases, gunfire and hi-jinks are plentiful, but there’s something weirdly soulless about it all that makes it seem much less explosive than it looks.

Survivor also boasts a very weird combination of qualities, being a film that’s at once a bit dumb and simple, yet hard enough to keep track of.  Ultimately, Survivor is not so much high-octane action as a slow fizzle.

Rating ***

 

Insidious

Thriller. Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Angus Simpson, Leigh Whannel, Lin Shaye, Ashton Moio, Ele Keats. Director: Leigh Whannel. Cert: 15A

Set a few years before the Lambert haunting in the first Insidious, Leigh Whannell’s sporadically scary prequel reaches into the grab bag of old tricks to jolt the audience out of their seats.

Whannell, who makes his directorial debut with this third chapter, does achieve one moment of delicious skin-crawling terror. Sometimes, stark simplicity makes the spine tingle. The third instalment centres on grief-stricken 17-year-old Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott, pictured right), who reaches out to gifted psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) following the death of her mother (Ele Keats) from cancer.

Soon after, Quinn is involved in an accident and becomes housebound in the apartment she shares with her father Sean (Dermot Mulroney) and younger brother Alex (Tate Berney).

A demon with an insatiable hunger for human souls — known as The Man Who Can’t Breathe (Michael Reid MacKay) — latches onto Quinn and attempts to possess the teenager’s body and soul.

Shocks are predictable, tapping into universal fears of the dark, and Sampson and Whannell offer light comic relief to distract from Mulroney, who is as wooden as the furniture in the Brenner apartment.

Unsurprisingly, writer-director Whannell leaves the cellar door ajar for a potential fourth descent into the ghoulish gloom.

Rating**

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