Wednesday 10 June 2015

Reviews: Spy, Danny Collins

Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jude Law
Running Time: 120mins

Melissa McCarthy is the most gifted comedy performer in Hollywood right now but, when the competition is Kevin Hart and Adam Sandler, it’s probably damning her with faint praise to say so. Here – in a third collaboration with writer/director Paul Feig following Bridesmaids and The Heat – she plays Susan Cooper, a mild-mannered CIA operative who, from the comfort of her office computer terminal, acts as eyes and ears for Bond-esque secret agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law). But when Fine is taken out of the picture, she steps up to take his place. On the trail of a portable nuclear device for sale to terrorists in Europe, Cooper – employing a variety of cringe-making aliases – butts heads with Rose Byrne’s Bulgarian crime boss Rayna Boyanov, while Jason Statham’s rogue agent Rick Ford keeps popping up to get under her feet and under her skin. 

McCarthy has the ability to elevate mediocre material (Tammy, Identity Thief) but she really shines when armed with a good script and a decent ensemble around her. She gets both here and her chemistry with Statham is particularly enjoyable, the pair swapping insults at 100 miles an hour as they nab many of the best scenes. Statham, star of The Transporter, Crank, and a lot of other movies involving fighting and explosions, plays it absolutely straight as the slow-witted, permanently-furious Ford, his boasts of hardman prowess becoming madder and madder (“I once drove a car off a freeway on top of a train while I was on fire”) and funnier and funnier (“This arm has been ripped off completely… and reattached with this fucking arm”). 

Yes, it’s all over the place and probably 20 minutes too long (the downside of having a big cast and globe-trotting plot), while a big twist towards the end doesn’t quite work; but despite all that Spy is hugely entertaining and, by mainstream Hollywood standards, utterly eccentric. At times it’s like Miranda Hart – playing Cooper’s best pal Nancy – has just wandered in from an episode of her sitcom and, when she teams up with rapper 50 Cent towards the end, the whole thing threatens to turn into some kind of weirdly niche BBC comedy/gangsta rap fan fiction. 

There have been a huge number of spins on the spy genre over the years (everything from Austin Powers and Kingsman: The Secret Service, to Mortdecai, TV's Archer, and the forthcoming Man from U.N.C.L.E reboot) but this is a definite cut above.

Rating: WWW

Danny Collins
Director: Dan Fogelman
Starring: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Bobby Cannavale
Running time: 106mins
Two things I have a serious aversion to are gloopy sentimentality and John Lennon’s solo oeuvre. Unfortunately, Danny Collins is choc-a-block with both so my enjoyment of it was always going to be limited as a result. And that’s a shame because director Fogelman’s film has its moments. 

Pacino is the titular Collins, a veteran rock star who long ago sold his soul to mammon and now makes a very lucrative living regurgitating his greatest hits on tour. But a personal letter to him from the ex-Beatle – written 40 years ago when Collins was starting out but which never reached him – finally finds its way into the singer’s hands. Lennon’s advice contained in the missive confirms all of Danny’s worst fears: he has betrayed his art and himself, and he decides to cancel his current tour in one last, desperate bid to get back to his song-writing roots. He also tries to reconnect with his long-estranged son, Tom (Cannavale). 

There’s a good deal of winning humour in the film’s first half-hour and this is when it’s at its strongest. Pacino – a perfect mix of natural charm and world-weary ennui – is clearly having a ball and brilliantly bounces off Christopher Plummer (Danny’s manager), Katarina Cas (his young trophy wife), and Annette Bening (the manager of the hotel where he holes up to write new material). However, once Cannavale, his wife (Jennifer Garner) and their cute, ADHD-afflicted young daughter show up, we’re on a one-way trip to Schmaltzville. A revelation just over halfway through about one character’s failing health doesn’t help matters either. 

Music from the late Lennon’s post-Beatles career looms large and is woven in throughout the film. Sometimes it works well, like when Working Class Hero is used ironically to illustrate how absurd Danny’s opulent lifestyle has become, but more often it’s ridiculously on the nose. Collins has a bad day so we get Nobody Told Me, he’s feeling sad about his son so it's time for Beautiful Boy, he’s thinking of what might have been so up pops Imagine. They aren’t great songs in the first place (especially Imagine, the most shamelessly hypocritical ditty ever written) and having them shoehorned in does the film few favours. (In fact, seeing how the movie is based on something that actually happened to Brit folkie Steve Tilston, how come his music wasn’t used?).

Mercifully, Danny Collins finds its feet again in the final third as it refuses to do the predictable thing and serve up a neat and tidy happy ending. A missed opportunity in many respects, then, but a sporadically entertaining one with something to say about second chances and redemption.

Rating: WW


WWWW = Wonderful
WWW = Worthwhile
WW = Watchable
W = Woeful

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