REVIEW: The Spy Who Dumped Me [2018]

Rating: 6 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 117 minutes
    Release Date: August 3rd, 2018 (USA)
    Studio: Lionsgate
    Director(s): Susanna Fogel
    Writer(s): Susanna Fogel & David Iserson

Thumbs up.

While Drew (Justin Theroux) gets his butt kicked in Lithuana on a covert assignment for the CIA, the woman he dumped via text just days earlier is forced to endure the psychological trauma of having every single person she knows at her birthday party wondering where he is. To make matters worse, we soon discover that Audrey (Mila Kunis) met him a year ago to the date—one celebration to ignite the relationship and another to ensure everyone knows it came to an end. But while he’s seemingly left alone to fend for himself in the Baltics, she has her BFF Morgan (Kate McKinnon) for necessary support. That could mean introducing a stranger to supply a creepy pick-up line or talking her into burning everything Drew left behind.

One of those things doused in lighter fluid and ready for the flame is a fantasy football trophy holding the secret that’s put a bullseye on Drew’s back. It becomes the thing that might keep Audrey and Morgan alive once the nefarious Highland syndicate (bad guys) and a contingent of MI6 agents (maybe bad guys) put them in their sights too. The duo hop a plane to Vienna to accomplish what Drew asks of them, the insanity of discovering what he does for a living keeping their adrenaline high to not ask too many questions. If nothing else it’s an excuse for Audrey to finally leave her apartment and see the world, bullets flying or not. For Morgan it’s an adventure even her large imagination couldn’t have conjured.

On the surface this all sounds pretty straightforward. And without the entertaining characterizations from Kunis and McKinnon, Susanna Fogel‘s The Spy Who Dumped Me would come off as a straightforward spy film too. She and co-writer David Iserson have more or less written exactly that with psychopathic murderers (Ivanna Sakhno‘s Nadedja), duplicitous agents (Hasan Minhaj‘s Duffer), altruistic heroes (Sam Heughan‘s Sebastian), and by-the-books government entities (Gillian Anderson‘s Wendy). Everyone wants what Drew has and so they converge upon Audrey and Morgan with all the weight they can muster. If Fogel let him remain the lead character, what followed would have been suave, corny, and staid. By putting the fate of innocent lives into the hands of a cashier and failed actress instead, they’ve let chaos reign.

Much like Paul Feig‘s Spy from a few years back, though, this isn’t a slam-dunk decision towards success. The result simultaneously exists as both a comedy and action thriller with the two halves subverting their respective strengths rather than augmenting them. This means that the laughs come from out of left field via diarrhea jokes and TMI conversations with parents (Jane Curtin and Paul Reiser are delightful as Morgan’s folks) spliced into what had been a dramatic series of events threatening mortal danger. And just when the absurdity looks to take over completely, we find ourselves with another instance of explosive stunt work that can’t help but slow down the pacing the dialogue had just enlivened. To ping-pong back and forth for two hours can prove a chore.

This happens sometimes when you attempt to cross genres and still supply everything each audience craves. I therefore wonder what might have been if Sebastian and Drew were allowed a more satirical edge to become cartoon versions of their archetypes rather than those archetypes themselves. This is why it feels as though Audrey and Morgan were thrown into an already written script haphazardly instead of the whole feeling as though it was written to support what their characters bring to the table. That incongruity causes unavoidable frustration when confronted by multiple extended periods devoid of good jokes. Audrey and Morgan somehow become side-players within their own film with everything fitting together tonally outside them. That contrast does earn some nice guffaws, but not enough to warrant the choice.

So we enjoy what we can before biding time in-between. It runs on too long with each close-call conclusion leading into another three or four set pieces, but luckily Kunis and McKinnon are here to truly save the whole from falling prey to its objective shortcomings. The former is the perfect straight man with a commendable naiveté that has us laughing at her deadpan earnestness and gung-ho attitude when it comes to picking up guns and getting behind the wheel during a car chase. The latter is conversely dialed up to eleven with a perpetually mischievous grin. Morgan will do whatever her impulse craves regardless of whether or not it’s a good idea. Sometimes this mindset crashes and burns, but more often than not it steals the scene.

Other characters are game for some fun too when the filmmakers allow the leading duo’s levity to spill over. Anderson and Sakhno get to lay the sarcasm on pretty thick in a few instances with Minhaj’s unbridled sociopathy proving a welcome bloodlust counterpunch to McKinnon’s sociopathic curiosity. Kev Adams‘ driver arrives as one of the rare cases of pure comedy (alongside Curtin and Reiser and maybe Fred Melamed in a brief role), his level of out-there wildness something I wish carried throughout the rest. Coming up with that list does have me scratching my head, though, since it’s longer than I initially remembered. Maybe Sebastian (through no fault of Heughan) is the real killjoy once he becomes a third wheel Boy Scout that grinds everything to a halt.

Perhaps it’s his injection as a voice of reason that really irked me because he’s ostensibly the stand-in for the world Audrey and Morgan have unwittingly infiltrated. Sebastian is written as a babysitter reining in the children when it was Kunis and McKinnon’s unchecked insanity that held my attention. Every time he returned onscreen meant a boring spell with an unearned sexual attraction to Audrey and a too-cautious foot on the brake for whatever antics had been happening. He’s written as nothing more than a plot device—an even more rigid straight man than Kunis—that’s too bland to ever think he’s more than the cardboard hero he turns out to be. Remove him by adding extra dumb luck to save the women and let the premise loose.

[1] Mila Kunis (“Audrey”, left) and Kate McKinnon (“Morgan”, right) star in THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME.
[2] Hasan Minhaj (“Duffer”, left) and Sam Heughan (“Sebastion”, right) star in THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME.
[3] Mila Kunis (“Audrey”, left) and Kate McKinnon (“Morgan”, right) star in THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME.

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