If Paul Feig’s hilarious The Heat and Spy, which also blended hard-R hardcore action, fish-out-of-water slapstick, and improvisational juvenile comedy banter into explosive female-centric action/comedy, didn’t already exist, The Spy Who Dumped Me would get higher points for originality. Just like Spy and The Heat, Susanna Fogel’s new film meshes two disparate tones—brutal bloody violence and outrageous, crass humor—while making the characters feel at least relatable via solid chemistry and comedic timing across the cast. This Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon match-up Bond parody by way of jilted lover rom-com is a fine, fun time. It’s just that Feig’s legendary team-ups with Melissa McCarthy are slightly better in most every sense, from the performances to the pacing. But if you’re sick of your home copies of those flicks and need to get yourself out of the house and into a theater, you can do much worse.
The premise, and even the third act twist, is very similar to the 1986 Bette Midler-Shelley Long action/comedy Outrageous Fortune, both about a duo of regular women finding themselves in deep mortal danger after being linked romantically with someone they didn’t know was part of some shady workings. Outrageous Fortune failed mainly because it fell into the trap of many similar ’80s flicks by splitting the genres into their own sections instead of blending them. The first half was comedy, and the second half took itself too seriously as an action/thriller, creating an awkward overall tone.
The Spy Who Dumped Me blends these genres from the first scene on, intercutting international super spy and Bond surrogate Drew (Justin Theroux) brutally taking out a horde of bad guys in a saturated shaky-cam Bourne sidequel-type setting, while wacky struggling actor Morgan (Kate McKinnon) tries to cheer up her low self-esteem suffering Trader Joe’s clerk BFF Audrey (Mila Kunis), who has just been dumped by her boyfriend via text. At first, it looks like we’re in for an experimental film where two separate movies are randomly spliced together, until we realize that the ex-boyfriend is actually Drew, who hid his true identity from Audrey in a True Lies-prequel fashion.
Soon enough, spies and hitmen turn Audrey and Morgan’s simple lives upside down in a desperate search for a typical spy flick McGuffin. (This time it’s something inside a fantasy football trophy.) What does it do? Who cares? It’s just the usual excuse for the wacky insanity to take place. Before they know it, the duo find themselves in Vienna, awkwardly attempting to broker a deal for the thingamajig in what they sincerely hope will result in saving millions of lives. Of course, this ill-conceived plan goes horribly wrong, forcing them to hop around spiffy European locations in true Bond parody fashion while miraculously staying alive as they’re chased by the entire European Bad Guys binder from central casting. Their major antagonist is a hilariously stoic anorexic Russian gymnast/hitwoman played by Ivanna Sakhno, whose silent intensity is a nice contrast to the blabbermouth American archetypes put on by Kunis and McKinnon.
Director Susanna Fogel has a past in helming projects that capture frank and whimsical banter between female protagonists, so the chemistry that she gets between Kunis and McKinnon is par for the course. But she’s also adept and sometimes even unforgiving at capturing the in-your-face brutality of the action sequences. The set-pieces are expertly choreographed, tightly edited, and executed with a kind of rawness that, while not quite on the level of John Wick, is definitely Wick-adjacent.
Fogel also capitalizes on the sheer panic felt by our fish-out-of-water protagonists to insert some comedy even during the bloodiest circumstances. However, the characters do lose some credibility, even for a comedy like this, when they barely respond to the carnage that explodes around them. These are supposed to be regular schlubs who suddenly see heads blowing into pieces around them, you’d think they’d stop for a second to come to terms with that. I’m not looking for an existentially heavy drama sequence to get in the way of the action/comedy pacing, and comedy can also be extracted from such situations. Remember in Spy when the Melissa McCarthy character threw up after her first kill? It was funny, and it fit the character. By ignoring the organic reactions of the characters in service of light comedy, one runs the risk of having them come across as sociopaths, and The Spy Who Dumped Me certainly flirts with that problem.
All of the plot developments, including the third act twist, are predictable for aficionados of the genre, but the many successful standalone comedy and action sequences, as well as the natural chemistry between Kunis and McKinnon, keep us going. McKinnon in particular, predictably cast as the weirdo comic relief in movies after playing similar characters on SNL, shows enough range here for me to wish for her own blockbuster vehicle. At almost two hours, The Spy Who Dumped Me feels a bit on the long side—a tighter 90-100 minute length might have worked better for this kind of project—but overall, Fogel and company have crafted a film that outperforms the more formulaic aspects of its premise and plot.
Director: Susanna Fogel
Writer: Susanna Fogel & David Iserson
Starring: Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Ivanna Sakhno, Sam Heughan, Hasan Minhaj, Gillian Anderson, Jane Curtin, Paul Reiser
Release Date: August 3, 2018