The Spy Who Dumped Me
Directed by Susanna Fogel
Starring: Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Sam Heughan
Rated R for violence, language throughout, some crude sexual material and graphic nudity
1 hr. 57 min.
We can be grateful that Hollywood’s long-standing barriers seem to be crumbling . It’s this sort of progress that’s responsible for the all-woman version of Ghostbusters (to mixed reviews and box office apathy); Ocean’s 8, where the ladies pull off the heist; and women superheroes (Wonder Woman and, coming in March 2019, Captain Marvel). This evolution continues in the comedy/action/international intrigue genre with The Spy Who Dumped Me.
Make no mistake: It’s a buddy film, filled with violence, F-bombs, bullets, bodies stacked up. And it plunges ever-so-stealthily into that last frontier of R-rated comedies: male reproductive parts on display. Think of it in the mold of 48 Hours or Bad Boys, but with spies and two besties, Audrey (Mila Kunis) and Morgan (Kate McKinnon).
The great Jerry Lewis was aging and bitter when he opined that women weren’t funny. His views were probably too ingrained to have been changed by seeing McKinnon in this film, but the delicious irony is that she’s the wise-cracking Jerry to Kunis’ Dean Martin. Come for the violence and the lovely Kunis, laugh with McKinnon. Her one-liners and ad libs are so subtle and so dry, and some are almost drowned out by the next car crash or burst of gunfire. What the story may lack it makes up for with fast-paced action, and the two actresses, especially McKinnon, digging into director Susanna Fogel’s script (written with David Iserson) and flying with it.
Audrey and Morgan have been BFFs for 12 years. Audrey’s boyfriend, Drew (Justin Theroux), has recently dumped her via text. After she’s sent him a fusillade of unanswered messages, he finally calls back — in the middle of a heated gun battle. Drew, as it turns out, is a CIA agent on the run.
The women then get mixed up with a British MI-6 operative (Sam Heughan) and a Russian criminal organization, Highland, all in hot pursuit of something vital that was once in Drew’s possession.
Filmed mainly in Budapest, Hungary, The Spy Who Dumped Me is rife with stereotypes that screenwriters purvey about Eastern Europe — its beauty and bleakness, man-buns, balance beams, pommel horses, trapezes and treachery. The latter four come courtesy of a model-gymnast-assassin (Ivanna Sakhno).
Kunis, becoming a quality straight-woman, serves as an effective foil for McKinnon’s flawless bon mots. In just a few efforts (this movie, the aforementioned Ghostbusters and a raucous turn in Office Christmas Party), McKinnon has managed to match or surpass fellow Saturday Night Live alumni as a comic actor. One of those alums, Jane Curtin, no slouch in her own post-SNL career, plays Morgan’s mom.
McKinnon’s laugh-out-loud performance stands in contrast to the in-your-face viscera and body functions that filmmakers now feel duty-bound to present. I don’t know how people can down so much popcorn while watching a movie character wretch. But I freely make comparisons to 48 Hours because it was Eddie Murphy’s first film. Regardless of some searing bloodshed, Murphy broke out as a movie star by keeping the audience in stitches between the flying bullets. Kate McKinnon isn’t the young Eddie Murphy (Murphy himself isn’t), but she runs away with The Spy Who Dumped Me like the anchor on the final leg of a 4 x 100 relay. Without her, this buddy-spy film, save Kunis’ appeal, would be ordinary at best.
McKinnon’s accomplishment, then, is twofold: She is hilarious, and she opens the door for further disruption of those staid Hollywood saws that determine what a woman can play in a film.