Greetings again from the darkness. Dozens of movies through the years
make up the Spy Action-Comedy segment. Most of these lean heavily on
either action (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Red, Knight and Day) or comedy
(Austin Powers, Get Smart, Date Night). The latest entry from director
Greg Mottola and writer Michael LeSieur offers a more balanced approach
while being somewhat grounded in familiar suburbia. Perfect casting
Comedies are the toughest genre to review because the only thing that
does it cause you to laugh?
depends on the sense of humor
of each viewer and even their frame of mind while watching. So what I
can report is that the full theatre at my screening was filled with
enthusiastic laughter multiple times, along with a pretty steady stream
of chuckles and giggling. This will undoubtedly vary from the accounts
of uppity film critics who will discount the basic plot and obvious
laughs (which is the whole point).
A James Bond-type opening credit sequence sets the tone as we abruptly
shift to watching Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakias, Isla
Fisher) sending off their two sons to summer camp before returning home
to their idealistic cul-de-sac suburban home. Things pick up when the
new neighbors, Tim and Natalie Jones, arrive
a seemingly perfect
couple played by Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot. They are the type of couple
who are beautiful to look at, stylishly dressed, and even show up with
a blown-glass sculpture as a gift for their new neighbors.
Of course, this perfect couple is really married spies seeking
information from the military weapons contractor where Jeff works as a
Human Resources associate. It's Karen who senses something is off about
the perfect couple, which leads to her stalking Natalie all the way to
a dressing room where she is comically intimidated by Wonder Woman in
black lingerie. On a side note, Ms. Fisher does have a later sequence
where she proves to be anything but a homely housewife, despite how
that dressing room scene is presented.
The men head off for some male bonding at a highly unusual specialty
restaurant, leading to one of the more manic sequences in the movie.
The four leads are all excellent, but it's Gal Gadot who is the real
and her scenes with Ms. Fisher are the film's best. Both are
allowed to shine, while the men are a bit more one dimensional.
Galifianakias is the all-trusting good guy just happy to have some
excitement in his life, while Hamm is the super cool spy (who wishes he
wasn't). Both men seem to enjoy the chance to make friends, while the
women are a bit more focused on tasks at hand.
Director Mottola is known for his films Adventureland and Superbad, and
writer LeSieur is best known for Me, You and Dupree. The impressive
thing about this latest is that the comedy mostly derives from
character and situational interactions, and the expected steady stream
of punchlines never materializes. There is even some insight into
marriages that have become a bit too predictable, and the challenges of
making new friends when all available energy is devoted to parenting
and making ends meet.
In addition to the four leads, there are some funny moments for
Maribeth Monroe, Matt Walsh and Kevin Dunn. The brilliant Patton Oswalt
is cast as the self-nicknamed villain, and is responsible for one of
the film's biggest laughs.
Of course, this is not subtle or high-brow humor, and the story line is
predictable throughout. The laughs stem from the contrast of a subdued,
comfy suburban life versus the sophisticated, over-accomplished
laughs clearly enhanced by the talented leads. So
while this seems like the kind of movie I would usually ignore, perhaps
it arrives at a time when laughing is simply preferable to the daily
grind of an embarrassing and humiliating Presidential race. So go ahead
and give laughter a chance
it works even better than a stress ball.