In a lot of ways, The Spy Who Dumped Me shares some common ground with Paul Feig’s Spy. Both centre around a woman becoming embroiled in espionage around Europe after something happens to a loved one. Whereas Spy saw Melissa McCarthy not only rush into the jaws of death but prove to be extremely capable of doing so, The Spy Who Dumped Me is lumped with a couple of ladies who are – let’s be generous here – less than capable.
Directed by Susanna Fogel (Life Partners), the film sees bored, arcade-playing cashier Audrey (Mila Kunis) still coming to terms with her boyfriend, Drew (Justin Theroux), breaking up with her via text. When Drew rather dramatically re-enters her life and gives her a package that needs to be taken to Vienna, Audrey and her best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon) find themselves on the run from the CIA, psychotic gymnasts and naked eastern Europeans. Along the way, they cross paths with Sebastian (Outlander’s Sam Heughan), a suave British spy who may be more trouble than he appears.
Comedies that play around with spy genre tropes often reach out for low hanging fruit in their pursuit of socking it to James Bond. You’re guaranteed to tick off a number of go-tos for laughs: gadgets, black tuxedoes, shifty foreigners and a few explosions. The Spy Who Dumped Me is no different, apart from how it tries to plant its laughs in a gritty Jason Bourne reality. Going into the film, you’ll find what is somewhat missing from its marketing is how incredibly dark and violent it can be. Noses are broken, appendages are cut off and one of our heroes finds herself to be a murderer within half an hour. Fogel, along with co-writer David Iserson (United States of Tara, New Girl) are certainly not in the game of pretending this is all one big jape and our heroes will bounce back like Wile. E . Coyote. In fact, one of the highest compliments you can give the film is how its director handles some expertly crafted action scenes, from the film’s opening stinger to an all-out spy VS spy rumble in a Cafe that must have been more than a little bit influenced by the kinetic violence of John Wick.
That the film’s humour is not the first thing to be brought up in this review perhaps says a lot already. The Spy Who Dumped Me is funny, please understand, with McKinnon stealing every scene she’s in. To Morgan, this life or death situation she finds herself in is merely a stepping stone to new period of personal growth. That said, even the Saturday Night Live star can’t save several jokes that nosedive into concrete with the speed of a fighter jet. For every joke that sticks its finger up at the patriarchy or the stiff-collared elite – as ALL comedy duos are required to do since the days of Laurel and HARDY – there are also huge testaments as to why improvising on set is not always the best course of action. Kunis and McKinnon are by no means as bad as Judd Apatow-shepherded material can be at its very worst, but the audience is likely to remain stone faced as one of our heroes gurns about how bad her diarrhea is – for what feels like excruciatingly long time. In addition to jokes involving oversized, dangling testicles, the film proves that, at times, whilst it can handle itself in a bar fight, it’s not overly sure about adult humour. Perhaps things would be better if both Kunis and McKinnon had someone better to bounce off than Heughan, who appears to struggle with the material outside of its grittier scenes.
With a pair of likeable leads, some cracking action and some genuine belly laughs, The Spy Who Dumped Me is by no means a waste of anybody’s time. When it’s good, it’s really good. It’s just, by comparison, when it’s bad, it’s deafening.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★ ★ ★☆☆
‘The Spy Who Dumped Me’ is in US cinemas from August 3 and opens in Australian cinemas on August 9.