Kate McKinnon stands out in what is otherwise an unremarkable film
Did the one-two punch of Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service and Paul Feig’s Spy launch a new wave of espionage comedies? As James Bond and Ethan Hunt continue to ring box office tills worldwide with every outing, there seems to be an assumption that audiences are hungry for films lampooning the formula of a spy thriller – without succumbing to the comedic depths of the Austin Powers or Johnny English franchises.
The Spy who Dumped Me, the sophomore film from director Susanna Fogel, doesn’t do anything to rejuvenate the now well-worn spy comedy formula. Largely copying Paul Feig’s 2015 film when it comes to the narrative broad strokes (two untrained women jetsetting across Europe on a mission after becoming unintentionally involved in a spy plot), the film unfortunately comes across as an inferior counterpart – the jokes aren’t as strong, and most crucially, the central spy plot isn’t treated with the seriousness needed to make it work. Say what you like about Feig’s Spy, but if you stripped that film of its enjoyably ludicrous jokes, it would still work as an exhilarating action film. The same can definitely not be said here.
Mila Kunis stars as Audrey, miserably celebrating her birthday after her boyfriend of almost a year dumped her via text, with no prior explanation. Her best friend Morgan Freeman (Kate McKinnon) is trying to get her to look past this event – but it soon comes back to haunt her, after she’s taken in the back of a van by CIA and MI6 agents who inform her that her ex-boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) was a spy who had gone rogue in Eastern Europe. Hours later, and Drew has resurfaced in her home, giving her a mission to go to Austria and finish the job he started; with her best friend in tow, they decide to make the journey to Europe, and the plan goes off the rails fast.
Kate McKinnon is a comedic force of nature; her years on Saturday Night Live have shown she is the most talented comic character actress in the game, able to inhabit and breathe life into new personas at the drop of a hat. Yet her choice of film projects hasn’t served her well so far – and her performance here is just a foul-mouthed variant on her joyously manic role in 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot. Here, you get the sense that she’s dialling up the most histrionic aspects of her comic persona in order to overcompensate for the tired film around her; an unusual character thrown into a narrative we’ve seen unfold countless times before.
McKinnon almost redeems the film (and the few laughs that there are to be had all stem from her characteristically offbeat line readings), but placing her wildcard persona next to Mila Kunis in the “straight man” role of this mismatched odd couple is an unfortunate decision. You never get the sense that these two people would be best friends in real life, so disproportionate are their personalities. The problem isn’t that Kunis and McKinnon don’t have chemistry – the problem is that the characters are drawn out in such a manner, that their supposedly close friendship never once rings true.
The film fares better in its unflinching handling of the violent set pieces. It’s no surprise that R rated action comedies are getting more comfortable committing to the bloody nature of their narratives, especially after Kingsman (and to a certain extent, Spy) rode that formula to box office success. Despite our heroines often being thrown into all manner of sticky situations, and several villainous types getting dispatched in increasingly gruesome ways, the carnage never has the visceral impact that it needs to work. I appreciated Susanna Fogel’s commitment to the gory set pieces, but the thinly drawn characters and the somewhat-McGuffin style plot around them ensured that it didn’t pack the punch that was needed, instead awkwardly existing in a realm that’s not quite funny enough to be a full blown comedy, nor convincingly directed enough to work as action spectacle.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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