© Jane Freebury

If you’ve got it, flaunt it. As CIA agent Susan Cooper, Melissa McCarthy does.

Just last year we saw her in St Vincent as a struggling single mum living next door to lonely old codger Bill Murray. Any chance that they might get together was put paid by his relationship with a pregnant, pole-dancing Russian prostitute played by Naomi Watts. Good as McCarthy is, I doubt this role did much for her career, despite the company she kept. Playing a kindly, put-upon women with a heart of gold only makes her somehow invisible.

It’s no place this actress wants to be. ‘People don’t stop at size 12,’ McCarthy says that she can’t shop at the mall with friends when her store is upstairs hidden behind the shop selling tyres. Even unscripted this actor clearly has a way with words.

Mainstream Hollywood comedy is where she best belongs for now, pouring all her stand-up live comedy experience into support roles that steal the show. Now that she’s in the lead role in this hoot of a James Bond spoof she can say thanks, but no thanks to any other self-effacing parts in second-rate movies that happen to drift her way, like her sad loser in the woeful Identity Thief.

The more room she has to move the better. Then she can stand proud in her plus-plus-size outfits and let rip with her lacerating humour, which isn’t easy when as an agent in the field, your cover is frumpy outfits and wigs of bad hair. As agent Cooper in Spy, McCarthy has a knack for delivering sharp, self-deprecating lines — ‘Why are you being so nice to me? It can’t just be because I remind you of some sad, Bulgarian clown..’ — and still coming out on top.

That said, she is no slouch when it comes to putting the opposition down either, even when it takes slim and beauteous form in Rose Byrne’s arch-villain Rayna Boyanov, a deadly arms dealer whose organisation Cooper must infiltrate. Or the form of gorgeous Morena Baccarin’s double agent and CIA colleague, the competition that confined Cooper to the backrooms at work.

And when the chips are really down, McCarthy does hand-to-hand combat with whatever is at hand in a hotel kitchen in great style. This extended fight scene adds an unexpected dimension of thrilling action to the gags and slapstick. Writer-director Paul Feig, who helped McCarthy to a ‘best support actress’ nomination at the Oscars for her role in Bridesmaids in 2011, has some surprising talents up his sleeve too.

Spy is one of the better Bond spoofs by far, and very good fun. The upcoming all-female remake of Ghostbusters isn’t the only reason we will be hanging out for the next Paul Feig film with Melissa McCarthy.

3.5 stars