The only thing more surprising than the lack of laughs is the abundance of kick-ass action.
Action/comedies have long been the domain of male stars with the well-worn formula of one tough guy plus one funny guy being the norm, but recent years have seen the genre open its doors to women too. It shouldn’t have taken so long to realize that females can be both fierce and hilarious, but we’re not the brightest of species. The past few years, in particular, have seen the release of The Heat (2013), Barely Lethal (2015), Hot Pursuit (2015), and Spy (2015), and it’s that last one that you’ll be most reminded of by The Spy Who Dumped Me.
Because it’s basically an unfunny version of that Melissa McCarthy-led gem.
Audrey (Mila Kunis) is in something of a funk since her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) broke up with her over text message and disappeared, but her best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon) is doing what she can to life her spirits. Drew re-enters the picture in dramatic fashion only to die in Audrey’s arms at the hands of a foreign agent, but before he goes he passes on some information and a request. Turns out Drew’s a spy too, and he needs her to deliver something of life and death importance to a cafe in Vienna. With nothing better planned for their day the two friends head to Europe where they hope to take in the sights before being killed.
The Spy Who Dumped Me follows in the long tradition of action/comedies that throw inexperienced characters into the fray where they succeed at times almost accidentally in surviving and fighting off the bad guys. While most similar films — The Rundown (2003), The Other Guys (2010), Central Intelligence (2016) — pair the newcomer with a pro, though, this one sees both its leads facing a steep learning curve along the way. There’s a risk of it leaving them out of the film’s best action, but director/co-writer Susanna Fogel and co-writer David Iserson do a fantastic job crafting the films livelier sequences so that Audrey and/or Morgan play a major role.
The film’s action sequences really can’t be undersold as they are terrifically choreographed and executed starting with an early one-take leap from a balcony by Theroux’s spy on the run. There’s also a fun variety among them with fights, gun play, a stellar car chase, and even a brawl between characters swinging on a trapeze. The script takes advantage of its R-rating with numerous f-bombs, but it earns it with the brutality of the action — a restaurant slaughter is particularly fun and bloody. The set-pieces have an obviously comedic bent at times, but attempts at humor never smother the electric thrills and crisp action populating much of the nearly two hour running time.
Speaking of attempts at humor, the comedy falls shockingly flat more often than not. Kunis has strong comedic timing with the right material, and McKinnon is usually a nuclear-powered source of laughs, but neither is able to find the funny with this script. It’s almost impressive. Bits are dragged on too long (an Edward Snowden gag grows excruciating), the tone grows uneven, and it’s just trying too hard to be funny from beginning to end. A character tells Morgan that she’s “a bit much,” and while it’s treated as an insult there’s absolute truth to it as applied to both the film and McKinnon. She’s constantly “on,” but it’s more desperate than entertaining.
One of the more subtle jokes involves the ubiquitous nature of dumb American women, but while it earns a rare smile it also raises a question. Slams against loud, garish American tourists are a staple, but narrowing it specifically to women seems at odds with the film’s intents. Sure our leads ultimately succeed on a combination of strength, luck, and the power of their friendship, but they tease their own dumb moments along the way. Bits involving a suitcase filled with trophies and the thumbprint needed to unlock a bad guy’s phone feel like choices made purely for laughs — that don’t come — at the cost of Audrey and Morgan’s common sense.
Both Kunis and McKinnon remain charismatic despite the lack of laughs, and the supporting players are equally appealing to see starting with Theroux’s athletic turn. Gillian Anderson has some dry fun as the head of MI6, and it’s always good seeing Jane Curtin and Paul Reiser who play Morgan’s enthusiastically dippy parents.
The Spy Who Dumped Me is an entertaining romp powered by legitimately exciting action sequences that more than make up for the lack of laughs.
Related Topics: Comedy