Published on August 17th, 2018 | by Damien Straker
The Spy Who Dumped Me – Film Review
Reviewed by Damien Straker on the 17th of August 2018
Roadshow presents a film by Susanna Fogel
Produced by Brian Grazer and Erica Huggins
Written by Susanna Fogel and David Iserson
Starring Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Sam Heughan, Ivanna Sakhno, Gillian Anderson and Hasan Minhaj
Music by Tyler Bates
Cinematography Barry Peterson
Edited by Johnathan Schwartz
Running Time: 117 minutes
Release Date: the 9th of August 2018
The Spy Who Dumped Me is poor. Its failure reveals the difficulty of melding action and comedy together. The genres present conflicting emotions. Action is concerned with velocity and the tension of being in peril. Comedy is slower with its observations found in acute timing. The greatest filmmaker in cinema to successfully unite these modes was Buster Keaton. The humour was embedded into his stunts. They were funny because they felt dangerous, which made the involvement of his films endure. Contrastingly, a buddy movie like 48 Hours (1982) pitched itself as a serious crime drama first before dabbling in comedy. It knew its genre and resisted overplaying the lighter comedic elements.
The challenge is too much for Spy. In this weak buddy film, Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon star as Audrey and Morgan, respectively. They are two friends who become involved in a spy plot after Audrey is dumped via a text message from her partner, Drew (Justin Theroux). He is a compromised agent. When he returns to explain the situation, he tells her she must take a trophy with her, which contains something important, and to meet him in Vienna. After he is shot, Audrey and Morgan vow to travel on their own across Europe to deliver the device. They are pursued from one location to another by Russian baddies, including an evil gymnast, Nadedja (Ivanna Sakhno). Their only allies are from the CIA, including a British agent (what?) named Sebastian (Sam Heughan) and his partner, Duffer (The Daily Show’s Hasan Minhaj).
Spy is typical of a lot of mainstream entertainment today. Its loud, stupid and recycled from spare parts. This would be less concerning if it were made with some care. Susanna Fogel was hired to direct, despite this only being her second feature film. By carelessly lumping the action and comedy together, she creates awkward tonal shifts. For example, an opening fight scene in a market cross-cuts with a gag scene where Audrey and Morgan burn Drew’s possessions. These tonally conflicting situations underline a major problem: if the film and its characters make light of the action and murdering people, why should the audience care? It’s hard to stomach how needlessly violent the action is too, which further undermines the comedy. For example, there’s a painfully unfunny moment where a someone’s thumb is hacked off for laughs—like how nutty soldiers take souvenirs from their kills.
Another major deficiency is that the script is witless and imbalanced. The success of many stand-up comedians transitioning into the movies depends on the amount of rope they’re given. Kate McKinnon’s Saturday Night Live act might be perfect in small doses, but it needed to be dialled back here. She drowns out the rest of the movie and doesn’t ignite enough laughs. There’s little space left for her co-star, Mila Kunis. She is still finding her feet comedically and doesn’t have the dominant personality to play the ‘straight-man’ to McKinnon’s schtick. It’s a pity because she is generally likeable and has been successful in comedies such as Friends with Benefits (2011), and through her voice work on Family Guy. At first it was nice and unexpected seeing comedian Hasan Minhaj here, but he’s completely misused. Duffer is characterised as arrogant for bragging about his education and then turns nasty. Why cast a hilarious, likeable comedian if his character is going to be serious so the audience hates him?
It doesn’t help that the two lead roles are scarce and underwritten. All we know about the women is that Audrey works in a convenient store who feels she’s never finished anything and that Morgan is an aspiring actress. It’s strange how Morgan is so dominant when the title references Audrey’s relationship. Their character development and the story’s empowerment message are an afterthought. The laziness is summarised by some appalling dialogue where Morgan bizarrely declares this one of the best weeks of her life. Without believable characters, the film is a series of skits and action sequences pinched from better movies. The bike scene from Inception (2010), the interrogation from Skyfall (2012), and various smashed markets from Bourne all feature. Even the inside of the trophy is eye-rolling and derivative. Would it have killed them to have at least made the McGuffin device funny? Its significance is rushed over too, such is the plot’s superfluousness. As such, Spy isn’t a movie, but a sideshow brutally dragged out for two hours with content we’ve seen done before and with infinitely more precision.
Summary: Spy isn’t a movie, but a sideshow brutally dragged out for two hours with content we’ve seen done before and with infinitely more precision.