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McKinnon Does It Better

Mila Kunis
Mila Kunis
 117 Minutes
Directed by: Susanna Fogel
Starring: Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon  
The Spy Who Dumped Me

In watching Kate McKinnon’s performance in several underwhelming comedies, most recently her girl buddy spy spoof with Mila Kunis, The Spy Who Dumped Me, I’m reminded yet again of Peter Chelsom’s insightful cult comedy, Funny Bones. There, Jerry Lewis expounded to his screen son Oliver Platt about “funny bones comedians.” As opposed to other comics, who merely tell jokes in a funny way, the funny bones comic is funny. And, in the tradition of physical comics dating back to Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy, Kate McKinnon is funny.


Nowhere is McKinnon’s gift for creating humor out of thin air more apparent that in The Spy Who Dumped Me. Despite a screenplay that rarely provides McKinnon or Kunis with a genuinely funny line and, instead, dumps them in the middle of a number of repetitive, overstuffed action sequences staged with almost no eye for comedy, Over and over again, McKinnon manages to contort her face into a bizarre version of a human blowfish or run at full speed holding her arms at awkward angles or maneuver on a trapeze against a trained assassin, all of which, as she does them, manage to be hilarious. Unfortunately, there’s simply too much lame story and not enough McKinnon in The Spy Who Dumped Me.


The lame story begins with Audrey Stockman (Kunis) being dumped via text message by her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) on the eve of her 30th birthday. What Audrey doesn’t know is that Drew is a CIA agent who is busy dodging would-be assassins in Lithuania. Audrey learns about Drew’s identity from an MI6 agent, Sebastian (Sam Heughan), who was working with Drew on his last mission. Drew soon shows up at Audrey’s apartment and promptly gets killed by an unlikely assailant, but not before asking Audrey to take a plastic trophy of his to Vienna to give to his contact to complete his misison.


Audrey and best friend Morgan (McKinnon) do go to Vienna and meet both Sebastian and Drew’s contact. They also meet about a dozen other spies in the restaurant where the exchange was to take place, leading to a major shootout and bodies all over the place. Audrey and Morgan barely escape a variety of would-be killers (see the clip below) and eventually learn that the trophy contains a flash drive with lots of top secret information that could be devastating in the wrong hands (aka, the McGuffin).


The Spy Who Dumped Me is about two hours long, and most of the second hour consists of scenes in which Audrey and Morgan have to figure out just who they can trust as opposed to those who are merely out to kill them and steal the flash drive. The simple answer to the last question is that most everyone they meet, with the exception of Morgan’s parents (Paul Reiser and Jane Curtin) in New Jersey, is up to no good. The reveals of villainy happen with alarming regularity and equally alarming lack of surprise. Simply put, Audrey and Morgan are likable enough, and Kunis and McKinnon have great chemistry together, but the plot is too ridiculously complex and the supporting characters too cardboard and unengaging, so the audience has no interest at all in deciphering the mystery.


The basic problem that The Spy Who Dumped Me faces is that it never really decides if it wants to be a serious action film with a good bit of comedy thrown in or a spy satire. The film’s fundamental premise of an amateur (or in this case two amateurs) thrown into a professional espionage scheme has been done dozens of times since Alfred Hitchcock drafted the rulebook in North by Northwest. Unfortunately, Spy’s director, Susanna Fogel, has no experience with this type of material and errs by turning far too much of the action into plodding, routine, repetitive set pieces that seem more at home on an episode of 24 than in a feature film with a supposed lighter tone.


As in most films of this nature, Audrey and Morgan eventually get fairly good at what they are doing, and, to the film’s credit, there are some explanations for their newfound expertise that pass at least the surface plausibility test for this type of thriller. Audrey is a shoot-em-up video game fanatic who adapts quite well to handling a real gun, while Morgan has some acrobatic skills that come into play in a final showdown with a particularly nasty bad gal on a trapeze during a circus performance. But their involvement in the action aspects of the film is sporadic, with entirely unnecessary sequences such as Drew’s pre-credits mission taking up far too much screen time. The Spy Who Dumped Me needed to be a brisk 90 minutes rather than a repetitive two hours.


The movie also misfires at being a spy spoof simply by not being zany enough. Too many of the scenes seem too real, especially those involving a highly trained and highly sadistic assassin (Ivanna Sakhno) who is one of many people after Audrey and Morgan. She seems to have wandered onto the set of this film by mistake after having been cast in an Equalizer movie. Beyond the overly serious action moments, The Spy Who Dumped Me suffers from a paucity of funny material. I counted about a dozen jokes that actually worked, almost none of them having anything to do with the main premise of the unlikely spies. Instead, what does work over and over again, is McKinnon’s physical antics. Her lines aren’t all that funny, but watching her facial expressions as she winds up in trouble over and over again is priceless. Imagine Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo thrown into the same situation and you get the idea.


Fortunately, director Fogel (who also co-wrote the screenplay) seems to sense where the movie’s strength lies, so she gives McKinnon a good bit of screen time, often in reaction shots during some of the action sequences. That doesn’t make the movie as a whole much better, but it does help the audience pass the time more comfortably waiting for these interludes. As a result, The Spy Who Dumped Me isn’t a total garbage dump of a film, merely a mediocre one.

In this clip, Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon get involved in a car chase (R-rated language).

Read other reviews of The Spy Who Dumped Me: 

The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018) on IMDb