The Spy Who Dumped Me is a lot like star Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton impression: There’s so many aspects it gets right — the back-and-forth comedic tradeoff between her and other leading lady Mila Kunis in the film is every bit as enjoyable as the fruffy blonde wig and peeled-open eyes seen in McKinnon’s take on the could-have-been president — but there are also plenty of elements that aren’t spot-on enough to make the whole package completely satisfying. Just as McKinnon’s playing of Clinton with an eccentric, vibrating exasperation isn’t accurate to the former FLOTUS, who’s too much a hardened politician to be the few-screws-loose next-door neighbor McKinnon (albeit hilariously) brings to the Saturday Night Live stage, The Spy Who Dumped Me struggles to meet its various ambitions of highlighting dynamic female characters, delivering laughs via overseas hoodwinks, and crafting a bonafide action flick that could serve as the female-centric complement to Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the Tom Cruise-starrer that opened just a week prior.
Directed and co-written by Susanna Fogel, The Spy Who Dumped Me kicks off in a place no one ever wants to be: on the receiving end of a breakup over text message. The dumpee? Kunis’ Audrey Stockton, an average-in-every-sense-of-the-word 30-year-old living in Los Angeles and getting by on her wages as a cashier in an organic market a la Trader Joe’s. The dumper? Justin Theroux’s Drew, a man who’s usually missing in action — and for a good reason, as Audrey learns he’s actually a CIA operative in deep trouble. After a scuffle intense enough to rival a Jason Statham-led actioner, Drew is ding-dong dead, shot in cold blood right in front of Audrey, who decides she and her best friend — the zingy, almost surreally up-for-whatever Morgan, played by McKinnon — will pick up in Drew’s mission where he left off, heading for Vienna to transport a package to a mysterious contact and then to Paris, Prague, and Berlin.
Expected madness speckles the first two acts of The Spy Who Dumped Me, which barrel out at top speed and fire off all the requisites of a film that marries action and comedy: car chases, impossibly handsome men whose true motives are hazy (Sam Heughan’s agent is capital-D divine and possibly dangerous), impossibly beautiful women who are definitely evil (Ivanna Sakhno’s steely-souled assassin is but one of them), gun fights, “we might actually die in the next 60 seconds” panics, some pretty wild plans, and a MacGuffin hidden inside Audrey’s abode (that may or may not make sense come the climax).
The problem with The Spy Who Dumped Me in this regard is that it’s almost as if one actually sees where in the film Fogel and the rest of the creative realize they may have bitten off more than they could chew in attempting to make a bump-free action-comedy hybrid. That Fogel’s idea — take a type of film people have seen dozens of times, focus on the titular “me” rather than the nominal “spy,” and send a seemingly unlikely but definitely unqualified best friend pair across Europe to engage in acts of espionage — is clever makes this inability to ever establish or maintain an unbroken tone all the more frustrating.
But, as mentioned before, it isn’t all bad. McKinnon sparkles with a megawatt glow — like she always does — and allows Kunis the opportunity to do the same. Though she’s certainly outmatched in experience (it’s hard not to be when your co-star has devoted her professional life to writing and delivering The Funnies), Kunis is a wonderful comedic performer — especially when she plays the I’ve-seen-it-all-and-can’t-be-shocked foil to McKinnon’s wall-bouncing Pixie Stick of a human, who rattles one-liners in a constant stream. (Her response, “Less and less with every experience” to Fred Melamed’s smarmy character’s question, “Are you a lover of Balzac?” beams with choke-on-your-Coke energy.)
McKinnon and Kunis carry the script, which grows more top-heavy as the two-hour film rolls on, on their back and do it with apparent ease. You’ll enjoy the women they portray and the pro-female attitude they exude (“We can do anything we put our minds to!”), but you likely won’t love how their story plays out or the place they end up.
Getting back together with an ex for a weekend-long rendezvous you know you shouldn’t fling yourself into, Panera introducing a double bread bowl for twice the carbs-inside-carbs deliciousness, margaritas with citrus-sugar rims instead of salted ones — these are all things that are so wrong, they somehow still seem so right, so good.
The Spy Who Dumped Me is almost like that — the things that usually don’t work (scatalogical humor, super up-close-and-personal shots of male genitalia, kooky situations that don’t do much more than endanger our protagonists to get a chuckle out of the audience) are offset by what really does (Kunis and McKinnon’s straight man/banana man dynamic, Gillian Anderson’s harsh MI6 head, the snappy first half of the action, the fact that the film doesn’t shy away from singing the praises of adult female friendship or from making statements about gender politics).
But a french fry dipped in a chocolate milkshake this movie is not.
The ratio of salty and sweet, wacky and witty is off — the film doesn’t so much glide between violence and humor as it does jerk viewers from bone-crunching, blood-spraying, face-melting, hard-R-rated John Wick-esque stylings straight into madcap adventures. If the shift in tone is jarring, the climax of the film is confusing and self-involved, and it makes for an underwhelming experience all around.