Spy movies are seemingly about as common as any other genre – Bond, alone, has had twenty-six films – and spy spoofs are growing in number, as well. Whether they come in the form of Mike Myers’s classic Austin Powers series, Rowan Atkinson’s Johnny English, Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson in Central Intelligence, or any of a multitude of others, there is no shortage of films for those who are looking for the more humorous side of the spy game. The newest addition to that particular list comes in the form of the new R-rated comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me, directed by Susanna Fogel and starting the powerhouse duo of Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon. This film takes the spy comedy subgenre and adds a twist, telling the story from the perspective of the innocents in the life of a spy, rather than the spies, themselves.
There is a spy, however, and that spy is Drew (Justin Theroux). Drew recently broke up with his girlfriend Audrey (Kunis) who must not only deal with the resulting heartbreak of being dumped (by text. Who would do such a thing?) but is also struggling with her thirtieth birthday and feelings of mediocrity. Her best friend Morgan (McKinnon) is there to help Audrey, every step of the way, but the relative normalcy of their lives is disrupted when Drew suddenly resurfaces and the two BFFs find themselves drawn into his life of danger and mystery.
What sets this film slightly apart from others of its kind is not the female leads (that was done by Melissa McCarthy in the candidly titled Spy, though that by no means diminishes the need to do it more often, such as here) but rather the common laypeople at the forefront of the narrative. That was also done in a way by Spy, but McCarthy’s character in that film was already involved in the world of espionage – just not field work. Here, Audrey and Morgan are two average Los Angeles women (though the film tries to establish Kunis’s Audrey as a little more average than we can reasonably believe) who are completely in over their heads and just making it up as they go.
That’s the source of much of the humor, though not nearly all of it. The film relies almost entirely on situational and character-based humor, rather than jokes and one-liners. It’s not so much what the characters are saying or doing that supplies the laughs, but why. This is the kind of humor I generally prefer in movies because it’s more realistic and it adds a funny-because-it’s-true vibe, rather than coming across as too forced, with the script jumping through a thousand hoops to arrive at a passé joke that the whole room saw coming. Humor relies on unpredictability and, with regards to the comedy, there’s plenty of that here. But if you’re just looking for jokes, jokes, and more jokes, you aren’t going to find them.
The story offers far less in the way of unpredictability. Whatever one might expect from the narrative, they’re likely to find. Fogel struggles to conceal the film’s imminent twists and misdirects, making it fairly obvious at virtually all times exactly what’s coming around the corner for our two protagonists. I understand that succeeding at that challenge is much easier said than done – especially considering how often this genre has been tackled in this vein. Still, it is what it is and, perhaps with some more experience under her belt, Fogel can get a little more inside the heads of her audience to further refine her storytelling techniques.
At the heart of the film, however, lie Kunis and McKinnon. They’re the draw; they’re what people will come to see. On that end, those people should leave satisfied. Both provide plenty of humor, with McKinnon being allowed to dig deep into her wacky side that has endeared her to so many in recent years. Kunis is a little more of the straight everywoman, but in a comically fallible way that helps audiences buy her as the girl next door – at least more so than they normally would. But both of them elevate the material, taking what the script provides and forcing it to be consistently entertaining and enjoyable, from start to finish, despite said script’s narrative laziness.
I can’t tell you what you will find funny. For me, I had a good enough time at The Spy Who Dumped Me to consider it a worthwhile endeavor. If, like me, you appreciate humor that requires you to get inside the heads of the characters producing it and you also like Kunis and McKinnon, then you’ll probably enjoy it, as well. If not, you won’t. While not among the very best comedies of the year, The Spy Who Dumped Me is an above-average effort, largely thanks to its talented and experienced leads.
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