There are various ways to score comedies, but few people score them the way Elmer Bernstein did. The great composer used to be known for westerns before he reinvented himself in the 70's and 80's writing for movies like Animal House, Ghostbusters, and Airplane!, going opposite to most composers by making the scores straight. This meant the comedy was allowed to function on its own, and was made even funnier by the contrast between the actual humour and the serious score. Theodore Shapiro's score for Melissa McCarthy/Jason Statham action comedy Spy does this as well, and it makes for interesting listening.
Based on the soundtrack at least (I haven't seen the film), Spy sets itself up as a bit of a spoof of James Bond. Shapiro's music is a bit of a mix of the John Barry and David Arnold scores (so I suppose like the Arnold scores then!), and structurally the album lays itself out as the same as traditional 007: the first two tracks are action cues, then there's a Bondian main title song. And you know what? It's actually a lot of fun.
Shapiro anchors the score with a Barry-esque brass riff that sounds like it's own thing while still retaining the Bond "feel". It's a nice strong melody and it features often across the score, injecting some fun into proceedings, particularly the action pieces. Being a big-budget espionage picture, there are lots of mysterious and thrilling cues, and Shapiro is able to keep some personality, although it does occasionally become a bit generic.
Like Arnold's Bond scores, it's primarily orchestral with electronic elements. 'To Rome' features a fun mix of mandolin and synth percussion, while 1 mixes the latter with brass for an explosive end to a mysterious track. 'Knife Fight' gets a bit heavy metal, and 'Flight To Budapest' goes with huge martial drums and fun statements of the riff. 'Lady Superspy' is the one where we get the Dark Knight strings, although they're cut thankfully short.
Shapiro also follows the travelogue style from the Bond movies, with 'City Of Varying Lights' being a fun French waltzing melody, and the aforementioned Mandolin speaking for Italy and Rome. But there's some lovely other melodies here, with the sneaky woodwinds in 'He Was Bradley Fine', and the wrap up with the noble brass of 'Garage Fight' and the warm piano/string combo and spanish guitar of 'Agent Susan Cooper'.
Spy is a fun score that always keeps on the straight side of things. While it does the Bond pastiche it never overdoes it, and the action material is interesting enough to keep a good balance with the more melodic music.
Spy is out now from Milan Records