During the many, many downtimes one encounters spending two hours watching The Spy Who Dumped Me, it’s easy to imagine a terrific, raucous, eager-to-please comedy about two best buds—call them, oh let's say, manic, troublemaking Lucy and go-along, get-along Ethel—getting caught up in deadly international cat-and-mouse spy games, foiling an international conspiracy and making a merry mockery of the whole worn-out genre. It’s an even easier movie premise to imagine considering this movie’s stand-in Lucy is played by wildcard and improv ace Kate McKinnon, and its Ethel is the low-key likable straight woman Mila Kunis.
That’s not the movie that director Susanna Fogel (Chasing Life) and co-screenwriter David Iserson (SNL, Mr. Robot) chose to deliver, unfortunately, at least not for most of its too-long running time. Against serious odds that include a labored, overly detailed spy plotting, the two actresses strike up a convincing, sweet chemistry as they play Trader Joe-type checkout worker Audrey (Kunis) and goofy would-be actress Morgan (McKinnon), rudderless thirtysomethings and longtime pals who find themselves pursued through Lithuania and Vienna. They end up neck deep in tiresome, seen-it-all-before sequences heavy on gunplay, murders, explosions, car pursuits, torture and spy-versus-counterspy shenanigans involving a handsome agent (Sam Heughan) and a smug one (Hasan Minhaj).
The queasy mayhem kicks off when Audrey’s icy, manipulative ex-boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux, never cast as a good guy) turns out to be a CIA operative who is apparently out to expose a widespread terrorist plot involving … who? The Chinese? The Russians? An agglomeration of international Mafia types? Who knows, who cares? What we do know is that anytime the flick presents a quirky, funny potential side character, he or she most likely gets injured or iced in the most brutal and unfunny ways possible.
While all the messy, bloody cloak-and-dagger action stuff might put over The Spy Who Dumped Me with international audiences, the movie thrashes around, delivering jokes that don’t land, and never getting a clear fix on what it wants to be. It winds up like EuroTrip with corpses, and leaves McKinnon to do all the heavy lifting. Sometimes, she’s up to it—giving it her googly-eyed, crooner-voiced, shape-shifting damnedest—but even a comic whiz has her limitations.
We’d like to see what Kate McKinnon could do as the top banana in a vehicle built around her.
The movie and McKinnon are at their best in moments like when she ogles sexy, deadly cool MI16 officer Gillian Anderson and observes, “I have so much respect for you that it’s circled around to objectification.” Or when she finds new ways of telling a homicidal fashion model-gymnast-spy-assassin (Ivanna Sakhno) to go fuck herself. But McKinnon is fitfully memorable in a movie that’s mostly shooting blanks. Hers may be a divisive talent, but we’d like to see what she could do as the top banana in a vehicle built around her—and we’re talking a Tootsie, This Is Spinal Tap, Office Space-level comedy.
Meanwhile, she—and we—have had to make the most of patchy stuff like Office Christmas Party, Rough Night and Ghostbusters. It ought to be a capital crime to waste gifts like hers.
The Spy Who Dumped Me