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Cloak and Gagger: Budapest stars in the new comedy Spy

Photo : Spy
Cloak and Gagger: Budapest stars in the new comedy Spy

Espionage gets messy in the new blockbuster featuring Melissa McCarthy as a bumbling secret agent, premiering here this week – and the misadventures of this kooky spook take audiences around many sites of the Magyar metropolis. This lighthearted twist on the spy genre by director Paul Feig was primarily shot in Hungary at locations around the capital city and by Lake Balaton, and unlike most Hollywood productions filmed here, Budapest stars as itself in many crucial scenes.

Spy takes its undercover characters to the exotic city of Budapest from CIA headquarters, where Melissa McCarthy plays dowdy desk-bound spy-handler Susan Cooper. Like a 21st-century version of Miss Moneypenny, witty Susan is in love with the glamorous globetrotting secret agent that she assists, Bradley Fine (played by Jude Law). Naturally her affection is unrequited, but when Fine falls off the grid during a mission, she volunteers to go undercover to rescue him – despite protests from Fine’s fellow superspy Rick Ford (Jason Statham) – so that they can catch arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), who is in possession of a small atomic bomb. Although the espionage plot might not be the most original or surprising, the humor in the movie is definitely explosive.

Originally, the script for Spy did not include Budapest as a setting; instead classic James Bond haunts like Venice, Capri, and Paris were the principal sites planned for on-screen action. However, for financial reasons Hungary’s capital was chosen for the film-production work, and soon after he arrived here director Paul Feig was so struck by Budapest’s beauty that he decided to give the city serious screen time playing itself. As seen in the trailer above, the film has a prominent scene of a scooter-riding fail on Zrínyi Street with St. Stephen’s Basilica in the background, while the action set piece that takes place in the villain’s subterranean lair was shot in the labyrinthine underground chambers beneath Buda’s Castle District. Another iconic setting included in Spy is the picturesque Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace (which now offers a “Spy In Budapest” package that includes a special tour of the locations used for the film within this Art Nouveau masterpiece building), the Museum of Ethnography, the Kelenföld Power Plant, and the beautiful Paris Court shopping arcade at Ferenciek Square – which will be familiar to fans of espionage cinema as a key setting of another (just slightly more serious) secret-agent movie, 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Photo: Spy

Spy will debut in Budapest cinemas on June 4th, but we were fortunate enough to attend a special advance press screening. We must point out that in SpyFeig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) continues his tendency of not being satisfied by a scene being merely funny: he either repeats it (generally in a less-funny manner) or prolongs it to such an extent that it makes viewers want to fast-forward. However, when he is top of his game, Feig perfectly captures McCarthy’s onscreen persona (who hides her lack of self-esteem behind being big-mouthed), making her funny and loveable. Feig takes his protagonist seriously, as opposed to Statham’s Rick Ford, the other pillar of the movie: his frantic speed and the crazy hooey flowing from him do much to improve the overall picture of the film. Unfortunately, apart from McCarthy and Statham, almost everyone else in the film is dismissable, not only because they are left without really witty moments to shine in, but also because their characters have very little space to unfold into. Nonetheless, in harmony with the espionage-film genre, Spy includes a few surprisingly explicit and brutal action scenes resulting in broken bones, a knife duel, and a car chase in Budapest. 

All in all, Spy is fun summertime flick, which (although neither original nor sophisticated) is loveable on its own right – and not only because of the Budapest shooting locations. Spy will be showing at theaters across Budapest beginning on Thursday, June 4th; you can watch it with the original English dialogue on June 5th, 7th, or 9th at 9pm at the Buda Bed Cinema (Budapest 1036, Bécsi út 38-44).