While most of the jokes fall on a sitcom level, Susanna Fogel’s ‘The Spy Who Dumped Me’ still makes a serviceable action-buddy cop film, clearly overt with its feminist themes.
Coming out a week after the release of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Susanna Fogel’s The Spy Who Dumped Me, though not the first of its own, is a subversive move to empower women in what arguably has been a sexist spy thriller genre. Wild car chases and bloody shootouts with women screaming and trying to survive the rough stuff – it takes in the form of an action-comedy but it also works as a hybrid of many subgenres. It can be a buddy-cop or a fish out of water story. Civilian bestfriends Audrey (Mila Kunis) and Morgan (Kate McKinnon) get themselves into a deadly European excursion when they found out that Audrey’s charming ex-boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) is actually a CIA agent who’s been hunted down by assassins for a vital piece of information – a USB flash drive no less.
It’s a weak MacGuffin but this is the type of story where you won’t care much about the plot (why are they doing that again?) and it just reels you in for the action and gags. For one, the film has decent and serviceable action set pieces to make it at least par with big known franchises – it’s not high art, but it’s fun enough. It even gets into black comedy territory as violence is interspersed with slapstick humor. A rendezvous at a fine dining restaurant turns into a free-for-all, Kingsman-inspired killing spree (even a cheese fondue gets weaponized). Morgan fights off a russian, android-like gymnast (Ivanna Sakhno) during a Cirque du Soleil trapeze performance. An eager uber driver gets shot in the face and such morbidness earns unguarded laughs from the audience. The body count is surprisingly higher than you expect. Director Fogel does not downplay on grisly deaths just because she’s dealing with ladies.
Chemistry-wise, Kunis and McKinnon make a fine dynamic duo and the film often puts them in sticky situations to generate frantic humor, but not exaggerated enough to make them look dumb. One of the hilarious scenes seen in the trailer is when the two attempt to hijack a fancy car, only to discover a stick shift that neither of them knows how to operate. Kunis is exasperated with this whole espionage crisis yet she has a likable screen presence that can easily be empathized with. While the film seems to be more interested in building up a possible romance between her and another dapper CIA spy Sebastian (Sam Heughan), Kunis’ scenes work better when she plays the straight role to McKinnon’s lunacy.
Speaking of, the film owes a lot of charisma from McKinnon’s shameless antics. The SNL cast member scored her first major role in 2016’s gender bender Ghostbusters reboot and in here she finally gets a lead role. She may play second fiddle to Kunis but for the most part, she steals the show. There is something mischievous and unhinged in her performance that glues your attention to her. “You’re the boss, and yet you have not sacrificed one ounce of femininity? That is the Beyonce of the government,” she says to a female CIA division head (Gillian Anderson), desperately trying to prove a point. Her feminist-themed jokes can be a hit and miss, especially when the script reiterates so much of it towards the end. But what more could she do with an even better material?
The Spy Who Dumped Me is ambitious enough to try different ideas to the point that it feels tonally uneven. Its perfunctory spy plot could have benefited from a shorter run time but overall, it’s nice to see an original action-comedy film entertain without the help from any previous franchise. Sitcom punchlines and all, it shines best when it focuses on the two women’s friendship and their shenanigans. If you are sold by McKinnon’s eccentric goofiness alone, then you already have your money’s worth.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Distributed by Lionsgate, ‘The Spy Who Dumped Me‘ is now showing starring Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Sam Heughan, Justin Theroux, Gillian Anderson, Hasan Minhaj and Ivanna Sakhno, Fred Melamed, Jane Curtain and Paul Reiser.. Directed by Susanna Fogel, written by Fogel and David Iserson. Run time: 117 minutes.