The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)
★ / ★★★★
Here is a movie that might have been tolerable, perhaps even deserving of a marginal recommendation, given that it had ended around the one hour mark. But then it continues for another hour even when the screenplay, written by Susanna Fogel and David Iserson, does not have enough fresh content to entertain a spectrum of viewers. The death march that is the latter hour is so desperate for laughs that it forgets it is a parody of spy flicks, chick flicks, and action-comedies. As a result, the joke ends up being itself.
Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon play two best friends who get thrown in the middle of an international plot involving governments and terrorists that wish to get their hands on a device. While the co-leads share convincing chemistry at times, there are numerous instances when McKinnon overshadows Kunis—particularly difficult to pull off because the latter makes it look as though exuding charm and variegated emotions is effortless.
McKinnon’s approach is tank-like: do and say whatever it takes to be the funniest person on screen. She has numerous facial expressions in her arsenal—and she is not afraid to look silly or stupid as long as she is remembered, especially when she is not on screen. I admired her strategy and it works for a one-woman show, but the director, Susanna Fogel, seems to forget that there must be a constant partnership on screen. Because I kept noticing McKinnon’s firecracker physicality and energy, I caught myself wishing that the film was solely about her character, Morgan with too strong of a personality, instead of Audrey, the woman dumped over text by her boyfriend who happens to work with the CIA.
The picture is surprisingly violent—which I enjoyed. However, this element of surprise is not enough to elevate the generic material. Yes, it is a parody of pictures that follow a certain formula, but it does not command an identity of its own. This is problematic, especially during the second hour, because when bullets fly and the characters go on the run, we know exactly how each sequence will play out. It becomes predictable—and isn’t one of goals of parody supposed to point to what is wrong or tired about a subject and attempt to subvert it? It relies on exaggeration—which parodies are supposed to do—but employing this strategy and nothing else prevents it from becoming a standout of the genre.
I dive into movies like “The Spy Who Dumped Me” not to ascertain the contents of its plot, but to see if it could really outsmart the genre it attempts to parody or skewer. While I chuckled sporadically because McKinnon and Kunis manage to sell their lines with verve to spare, the unambitious screenplay leaves a lot to be desired. In addition, notice its wildly fluctuating tone, how out of control it is to the point where would-be amusing moments are placed right next to occurrences that are deadly serious, or vice-versa. Clearly, the screenplay would have benefited from further redrafting.