The comedy-thriller (or is it thriller-comedy?) The Spy Who Dumped Me betrays itself from its opening scene. The film’s opening is a somewhat taut sequence as Justin Theroux’s Drew Thayer (the titular spy) engages in a deadly chase somewhere in Eastern Europe. It’s a somewhat perfunctory action sequence that flirts with comedy but is mostly straightforward in its action sensibilities as Drew outruns a team of henchmen who are after him for reasons unbeknownst to us. But the film is not really about Drew. The film is about Mila Kunis’ Audrey Stockton (the titular me). She’s dejectedly celebrating a dismal birthday in the wake of being dumped by Drew and her plans to move on from him are swiftly interrupted by the revelation that Drew is a member of the C.I.A. who returns to die in her arms and send her on a trip to Vienna to carry out one last job for him.
So, from that description The Spy Who Dumped Me sounds mostly like an action film with some human-interest inclinations. Except, The Spy Who Dumped Me does not coherently work as an action film and its most earnest inclinations are much more in tune with its comedic sensibilities. The tale of Audrey and her increasingly loquacious best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon) getting embroiled in a series of undercover spy machinations that they display little competency for, as they make a misguided trip around Europe, is not a novel idea but has more charm than the main plot. The A-plot of The Spy Who Dumped Me is very much about the “one-last-mission” that Audrey seeks to complete. However, the most confident beats and arcs, are instead dependent on the rapport of Kunis and McKinnon which is given the main focus too late to cohere. And this is all fine, in theory. Many excellent films contain multitudes. But The Spy Who Dumped Me seems constantly at odds with itself – uncertain whether it wants to be a comedy or an action film and then becomes even more compromised later in the narrative when a feminist-romance film threatens to reveal itself.
I saw The Spy Who Dumped Me in an almost packed theatre with an audience that was vocally responsive to the majority of the film’s comedic posturing. And I feel this an important point to make because for all its issues, the most searing quality of the film is its general good-naturedness. It’s a quality that shows in its comedic sensibilities more than its action ones, but that becomes par for the course as the film develops. Director Susanna Fogel (who also co-writes the film with David Iserson) does a serviceable job but the comedic tone she effortfully creates in regular sequences becomes immediately compromised when the film cuts to an action sequence. Coming off the heels of a more straightforward action film like Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the action sequences in The Spy Who Dumped Me seem mechanical in their deployment. The biggest liability is that the action sequences stop the comedy when the film’s momentum depends on the comedy becoming a propulsive part of its narrative. During a car-chase scene (probably the most technically proficient of the action sequences), a taxi-driver dies in a moment that goes unremarked on by either of the two women who we would imagine would have a more visceral reaction after being thrust into this situation.
Sam Heughan (of Outlander fame) does his best James Bond audition as an MI6 agent, but the film is not interested in him beyond his good looks and accent. Which, ultimately, is fine. Audrey and Morgan, and their devotion to each other, becomes the film’s biggest boon as these two women – out of their comfort zones – hold on to each other in the face of chaos. And the film around them grows increasingly chaotic, but it ultimately seems irrelevant. Nether Audrey nor Morgan seems to be a
character with a significant interior life as written (although Morgan’s helicopter parents are a consistently rewarding comedic touch) but Kunis and McKinnon are committed to making the rapport the two friends share believable, even as the film skirts into a series of twists after twists that strain credulity.
When I came out of The Spy Who Dumped Me and a friend asked me how it was, I could not truly muster up the effort to say it was bad. It’s not bad, even though the majority of reviews seem exasperated with it in a way that overpowers its general diffidence. The final shot of the film, a mid-credits scene, privileges the female friendship of the film’s centre in a way that feels essential and affirming in a way that’s significant when female centred films are often tossed to the side. The Spy Who Dumped Me, sadly, seems to exist in the shadow of something like Spy, the excellent Melissa McCarthy vehicle which admirably blended action with comedy, all with a pro-woman message that was artfully and earnestly deployed. The Spy Who Dumped Me does not fare so well. But it’s not a complete waste while trying. It’s…fine.
The Spy Who Dumped Me is current showing at Caribbean Cinemas.
(Email your questions or comments to Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org)