The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)
They got this.
Today, the saying ‘it’s a man’s world’ feels kinda dated, well, at least in Hollywood anyway, with every sizable studio dropping more and more ‘ladies’ night out’ romps into big, busy multiplexes. The Spy Who Dumped Me is the latest of these female-driven entertainers, filmmaker Susanna Fogel, Life Partners (2014), setting her sights on the buddy action-comedy, flipping the script by giving the 007 formula a female-centric twist.
Starring knockout Mila Kunis, who excels in playing the everywoman, and established comedian/ character actor Kate McKinnon, The Spy Who Dumped Me is a rollicking good time, even for us blokes, the flick fusing bawdy comedy with outrageous espionage mayhem. On top of all this, there’s some strong commentary on platonic female companionship and the strength of all woman, our leads, who share a big sisterly-type bond, constantly encouraging and building one another up, rather than tearing each other down. McKinnon’s self-professed feminist, for instance, keeps taking time out to appreciate her long-time best bud, Kunis’ thirtysomething singleton, using superlatives like ‘you’re incredible’ and blurting out phrases about ‘owning’ her badassery. Now, that’s what I’d call real female empowerment!
The movie opens at a bar in Los Angeles during a surprise 30th birthday party for Mila Kunis’ Audrey Stockman, a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing cashier who’d recently been dumped by her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux), whom she met about a year earlier. The truth, however, is that Drew is a CIA agent, who’s over in Lithuania, doing all sorts of Tom Cruise-y stunts to avoid being captured or killed. He ignores all her calls and texts up until Audrey’s firecracker BFF, Morgan (Kate McKinnon), threatens to burn all his things for some post-break-up therapy. That’s when Drew phones back and asks Audrey to delay the big bonfire until he’s had a chance to explain himself. The very next day, Drew shows up unexpectedly at Audrey’s pad, along with a handful of baddies who start shooting the place up. While dodging bullets and flying debris, Drew hands his ex a cheap fantasy football statuette (which she was previously going to incinerate), stating that it contained some very important information and needed to be in Vienna, Austria, by the next morning.
From there, the gals head to Europe with the plastic trophy in hand, where they are targeted by elite assassins and dodgy top-secret operatives who are after the USB drive hidden inside the award, its contents containing details of a dastardly terrorist plot. Along the way, the ladies encounter a hunky James Bond-esque British agent named Sebastian Henshaw (Sam Heughan), who may or may not be working for the goodies, and a ruthless Russian gymnast-assassin known as Nadedja (an icy Ivanna Sakhno). Now, as the dynamic duo embarks on a globetrotting escapade, they must learn how to traverse the top secret world of unruly shootouts, high-octane car chases and daring escapes, the lifelong chums discovering that they can’t trust anyone … except for one another.
Written by director Fogel and telly producer David Iserson, The Spy Who Dumped Me can feel a bit uneven, chiefly when it comes to its jokes, some of which feel like filler. You see, for every gag that hits its target — Morgan, at one stage, points out that signaling in the midst of a car chase is kinda stupid — another doesn’t — full-frontal male genitalia anyone? It is, however, always fun watching a couple of romcom-type characters try to navigate their way through an ultra violent landscape (I’m talkin’ severed fingers, impalements and gun shots to the face). And while some might argue that the gruesome violence sorta undercuts the laughs, I’d say the ludicracy of these situations evens things out. Take an early rendezvous at a Vienna café, for example, which explodes into a frantic blood-spattered gunfight, where someone dies by getting their head shoved into a steaming pot of chocolate fondue.
Although the set pieces can be overly far-fetched and very self-aware, the outlandish action scenes by stunt coordinator and second-unit director Gary Powell, Casino Royale (2006), are expertly cut and polished, the highlight a spectacular pursuit through the streets of Austria’s capital that involves a trio of machine-gun toting motorcyclists and a spirited Uber-driver/ DJ named Lukas (Kev Adams). Heck, we even get a wacky Cirque du Soleil-type trapeze showdown in the third act, which takes place at a black-tie gala in Berlin, McKinnon’s Morgan facing off against cold-blooded model-turned-gymnast Nadedja, who, after surviving a bomb blast, is sporting a sadistic sci-fi mask.
Integral to the flick’s success is the central relationship between Kunis and McKinnon, which is thankfully never used as a source of tension. Mila Kunis does well as the nervous, self-conscious Audrey, the former That ’70s Show (1998-2006) star nailing all the identifiable traits that make her every day character so relatable. Contrasting Kunis nicely, Kate McKinnon (in her best performance to date) is a riot as Audrey’s devilish aspiring actress bestie Morgan Freeman (yep, you read that right), the Saturday Night Live alumni killing it in all of her scenes. Whether she’s analyzing di*k pics over the phone with her parents Carol and Arnie (played to perfection by Jane Curtin and Paul Reiser), bragging about her prior love affair with computer hacker Edward Snowden (Tom Stourton) or losing her shit over meeting exasperated CIA boss Wendy, portrayed by The X-Files’ Gillian Anderson (McKinnon’s real life crush), watching the 34-year-old comic do her thing is an absolute delight. At one point, her character is referred to as being ‘a little much,’ and that’s kinda the idea, McKinnon even going so far as to enhance small moments of the film … just because, i.e. speaking in a Cockney accent when posing as an airport chauffeur in Berlin.
Elsewhere, Justin Theroux, Mulholland Drive (2001), phones it in as the titular spy, whereas Sam Heughan, best known for his role as Jamie Fraser in the television series Outlander (2014-17), is pretty convincing as the suave MI6 agent Sebastian, a character whose allegiance is supposed to be murky but might as well be walking around with a sign reading ‘token love interest guy.’ Hasan Minhaj of The Daily Show fame is perfectly cast as Sebastian’s arrogant partner Duffer, a pompous Harvard graduate who thinks he’s better than everyone else, whilst stand-up comedian Lolly Adefope has a couple of good bits as Audrey’s obnoxious frenemy, Tess.
Like most contemporary American comedies, The Spy Who Dumped Me probably runs a smidge too long and doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel. Either way, this slick girl power caper is still a wild escapist ride, the whole crazy venture cropped up by Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon, and their well-developed lady friendship, which is refreshing, amusing and, most importantly, feels sincere. Besides, how often do we get to see a kick-ass action flick where the women aren’t in any immediate danger? Because, this time, they’re the stars!
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie