Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon are tossed into the thick of the secret-agent world in Susanna Fogel’s action comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me – and it’s without a doubt a mission failure.
Before The Spy Who Dumped Me reached cinemas last month, a writer’s block made articulating the film’s missteps before release rather difficult. After all, what could there be to expect of a modern spy caper other than its short-term goals of blowing things up and leaving audiences with a chuckle?
Well, if there’s one thing to know about spies, their tactics shouldn’t be expected at all. Their identities are kept close to the chest, their missions are ever expansive and they don’t fall into the traps of cliche (if they’re worth their salt, anyway). There’s a certain prestige to the espionage narrative, and it can lead to wonderful satire from average lower-class representation, ie. Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsmen series of British-yank-turned-Bond or even Paul Feig’s shaggy action comedy Spy.
It’s a structure that would certainly make Joseph Campbell proud, focusing on how the expected underdog, from Taron Egerton to Melissa McCarthy, can achieve the unexpected through innovative means in their world of suspect characters. The script from Fogel and David Iserson doesn’t offer its stars such direction, leaving their characters as joke machines and D.O.A. flailing stereotypes that truly comprise their fake cinematic feminism: where females can lead tired movie plots with little depth just the same as men… Yay?
McKinnon stars as Morgan Freeman (the film’s joke name, if you couldn’t already tell), the L.A. bound party animal desperate to cheer up her kindred spirited best friend Audrey (played by Kunis). Aside from her boring life as a cashier for any ol’ whole foods store, her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) broke up with her via text… And on her birthday, of all days! He claims his work for NPR, producing some jazz music/animal survival podcast, has him so stressed that he must instantly call off their relationship. This is actually all a lie, of course, revealing himself to be a cut-throat CIA operative stopping terrorists and preserving the all-American way of life (you get the picture).
Now Drew is back in the picture – bringing his violent crisis along with him. Once he rekindles with Audrey, sniper fire explodes through their apartment as he pleads her to deliver an ultra-secret trophy to Vienna because there’s something inside and the producers said we need a movie.
With Drew presumably dead after this encounter, our heroes travel through Lithuania and Vienna where the hijinks are plentiful, albeit poorly meshed with slapstick/quirky comedy, and the details are sparse because the studio isn’t keen on the whole thinking thing.
The journey does show some interesting agents, such as the Russian gymnast/assassin (played by Ivanna Sakhno) hunting down our heroes or the suspect MI6 team in Sebastian (Sam Heughan) and Patel (Hasan Minhaj), both of which are under the rule of their criminally underused commanding officer (played by Gillian Anderson). “I have so much respect for you that it’s circled around to objectification,” Morgan says of Anderson’s character, committing the sin of telling the audience something is magnificent rather than showing it.
The little we see of Anderson does play as a male-female lust for the actress’ looks, more than an empowerment character symbol the writers just couldn’t present maturely for one reason or another. There’s nothing wrong with lust on screen if it’s paired with a few witty critiques, a satire on objectification vs. subjectification or just fleshing them out beyond a cameo for crowd boners.
These characters do offer the world a flavour of spy movies past, however, their interactions with the main characters play more like toys used in a childish through-line rather than an actual screenwriter with defined identities and concepts. This bar in quality isn’t even reached when it comes to tone, unable to balance the comedy with the action as the film presents itself as a spliced studio production with little care for flow.
Ultimately, The Spy Who Dumped Me is a film with a missing identity – and not in the secret spy way of the phrase. Sure, there are some car chases, shootouts, knife fights and the slew of R-rated violence are fine enough, but audiences (particularly females) should expect more of their espionage than a cliche romp that’s focused on male figures and one-liners than a weighted feature film.
If the mission for The Spy Who Dumped Me was to give audiences a worthwhile adventure, it’s a decided failure that retreads old territory. Terminate your tickets now while you still can.
Gillian Anderson was Kate McKinnon’s childhood crush.