2018 | rated R | starring Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Sam Heugan, Hasan Minhaj | directed by Susanna Fogel | 1 hr 57 mins |
Here’s the thing. I’m a huge sucker for movies that take elements that have been tried and failed before but stitch them together in such a way that makes them work. That’s why, as superficial, unoriginal and winded it ultimately becomes, I found it a total blast watching The Spy Who Dumped Me pull off things that studio comedies of this ilk usually embarrass themselves with. It’s a fast, fun, grand, globe-trotting mainstream Hollywood escapist movie at some of it’s most entertaining. It doesn’t quite get to Game Night levels of irreverent success, but it gets closer than I would have expected from a title like this.
First, how could this, and how have movies like this gone wrong? Let me count the ways. We’ve got Mila Kunis who has never been known for her comic chops paired with Kate McKinnon who has gradually become known for being the best part of bad movies (Ghostbusters, Rought Night) using sheer over-the-top scenery chewing – not unlike Melissa McCarthy in the not-terrible but all-around inferior Spy. You’ve got a spy film with a gender reversal that easily could have been plague with on-the-nose gender politics. Most looming you’ve got the genre mixture of big-budget action with R-rated slapstick comedy, a blend that studios haven’t been able to make work for years. With rare exception, action/comedies on this scale in a post-CGI world have been mixing like oil and water and that inability to reconcile the need for thrills and laughs has been the rot at the center of everything from Tom Cruise’s globe-trotting action/rom-com Knight and Day to the CGI fueled escapades of Paul Fieg’s Ghostbusters.
They share a similar premise – regular woman/women, are dropped into the high-stakes world of action spycraft – so if you want to see an obviously improved showcase for an actor, McCarthy’s Spy is your movie; but if you want to see something a bit richer, that is working in multiple lanes: on the action, the comedy, the character relationships and leans into a level of sheer brutality and ridiculousness that explore the wider breadth the R rating gives it, The Spy Who Dumped Me is the movie. Director Susanna Fogel (Life Partners) welds all of these disparate parts together tightly to make a wonderfully entertaining concoction that never feels that either genre is biting into the other, just amplifying it.
The premise is all there in the title. When Audrey (Kunis) gets dumped via text by her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) and trashes his stuff, she and best friend Morgan (McKinnon) accidently acquire a piece of international intelligence (the proverbial “drive”) that sends them on a chase across Europe with CIA agents (Sam Heugan, Outlander, and Hasan Minhaj, both playing against type) and a ballerina assassin on their trail. The shocker here is how serious Fogel is about the action scenes. Dumped Me has some Die Hard level violence, setting up comic relief only to be brutally killed off and putting knives through hands without skimping the blood. There is a restaurant shootout and a car chase in here as good as anything in a Mission: Impossible film but with a pretty funny body-flying absurdity. Kunis and McKinnon’s F-world-lined banter is never too cute or too fish-out-of-water that it cuts into the mayhem. In fact, they seem to temper each other’s performances, with Audrey’s timidity and Morgan’s “too muchness” both bouncing off each other and being self-realized in the script.
Pure speculation here but this movie feels way more cinema-literate than other studio films like it. The European border-jumping, the way it uses it’s McGuffin, the double-crossing spies, all feels deliberately inspired by The 39 Steps. Dumped Me also does something more subtle, it emulates a spy film to become it’s own spy film, but does so without falling back into a James Bond homage. It’s refreshing to see a movie that knows something about spy films beyond James Bond.
The Spy Who Dumped Me is a delightful surprise and a far above average studio comedy. It was totally entertained by it. It’s biggest issue is that at almost 2 full hours, the last act runs far too long and looses a lot of steam. The first half moves like a European bullet-train, emptying it’s biggest and most fun sequences in it’s first half. I again speculate, that’s under a studio mandate to grab the audience with your best stuff up front. Like many movies with that mandate it becomes front loaded and doesn’t build, leading to a lame guns-drawn stand-off for a climax instead of a rip-roaring action bit we’ve seen the movie pull off 3 or 4 times previously. Also the final scene tag seems like a studio tag-on that was shot entirely to give the trailer shots of Kunis and McKinnon playing spy.
Against all odds with these ingredients, an untrustable cast and bad marketing, The Spy Who Dumped Me is a shockingly solid, funny and well-built 90s action comedy throwback. It’s silly and shallow, but it is also incredibly entertaining. Textbook Hollywood escapism.