Monday, August 6, 2018


by Patrick Bromley
It's not me, it's you.

Here are some things I like: action comedies, buddy movies, over the top violence, Hard-R movies, Kate McKinnon. Here are some things I don't really like: The Spy Who Dumped Me.

I tried. I really tried. I wanted to like it. And the movie is not without value: the action is pretty well staged and has a sense of energy, the actors appear to be having a good time, and there were a handful of moments that genuinely made me laugh. But there were four times as many moments that frustrated me with how much they miss the mark and both actors feel miscast -- not for the roles that they're playing (they're fine), but because they have such completely different approaches. Mila Kunis keeps getting cast in comedic roles despite not being especially funny, for which co-star McKinnon feels the need to compensate by refusing to ever come down to Earth. All of her choices create an ironic distance between her character and everything taking place in the movie and it's really too bad.
Kunis and McKinnon are Audrey and Morgan, lifelong best friends both stuck in their lives (which we know because we are told it at key moments that it matters to the plot, not because we ever really see it demonstrated on screen). Audrey works at a grocery store? I think. Again, we know she's stuck because the movie says she's stuck. Morgan is an actor going on one failed C-grade commercial audition after another. Kunis' boyfriend (Justin Theroux) dumps her over text because he is a spy? (We're told it's because he's trying to keep her safe, but given some of what we find out in the movie, his motivation is very, very unclear.) He leaves an important spy thing in her apartment, making her the target of the CIA and one terrorist organization after another. The ladies begin an adventure through Europe to get the spy thing in the right hands and keep it out of the wrong hands, all while being pursued by hunky MI6 agents (Sam Heughan) and psychotic gymnast assassins (Ivanna Sahkno) and one bad guy after another.

I was a big fan of co-writer/director Susanna Fogel's debut feature Life Partners, which was a quiet and honest examination of female friendship. Seeing her graduate to a much larger scale and a bigger budget is interesting, because she's clearly trying to transplant some of those same ideas over to the framework of an expensive studio action comedy. Occasionally, some of it slips through, like in a funny scene in which the women reveal just how much they know about one another or in Kate McKinnon's one honest moment where she's visibly wounded by a character telling her she's a "bit much." For the most part, though, the script (by Fogel and David Iserson) is too busy dumping on plot and having the characters react to stuff to really devote any energy to characterization. It leaves McKinnon all kinds of room to invent a character that's not necessarily on the page, and it sometimes derails the movie. It's what she did in Ghostbusters, but in that movie I thought it worked: she was just some extra color, one weird thing in a movie that was (supposed to be) full of weird things. As one of the co-leads of The Spy Who Dumped Me, the mugging is a problem.
Fogel handles herself really well when it comes to the action, actually, which is fun considering her walking-and-talking beginnings. It's clear that she wants the action in the film to work, so she and her team find ways to stage moments that stand out and shoot them in long takes to emphasize how cool and kinetic they are. The movie really leans into the violence, too, so it's bloody and gratuitous in a way that's all but been forgotten in the age of the PG-13 rating. This creates a tonal problem too, though, as the movie wants us to be laughing when innocent people are brutally killed because ha ha Mila Kunis is screaming and now she has to drive the car herself! In Europe! Sorry that guy's life is over. There are moments that the over the top nature of the violence becomes comedy in and of itself -- a restaurant slaughter turns the amount of carnage into a punchline -- but it's a difficult line that the movie isn't always successful at navigating.
Comedy is subjective. I can't say The Spy Who Dumped Me isn't funny just because I didn't laugh much. The audience at my screening laughed a bunch, especially at anything and everything Kate McKinnon did. And I know there are plenty of people who will have fun watching it, especially because it's a rare case of a violent buddy action comedy featuring two women, which is still too rare. But at two hours, the movie is still way too overlong, way too plot-heavy, and way too messy for me to give it much of a recommendation. With better focus and about 25 minutes shaved off, The Spy Who Dumped Me could really have kicked ass. I was hoping for this year's The Heat. Instead, it's this year's The Hitman's Bodyguard.

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