Well into a summer blockbuster season that starts now in, oh, roughly late March, by August we’ve all recalibrated our expectations, come to some peace with substandard offerings. Just as a hot dog dropped in dirt at a backyard barbecue is blithely dusted off and inhaled in three bites – it’s still a hot dog, and besides, you’re drunk – the flimsiest of film entertainments is met with the same shrug. The seats are cushy, the air-conditioning cold, MoviePass has lived to see another day (wait, lemme check my phone), and “big dumb fun” is now and forever the song of summer.
So when I say the instantly forgettable action-comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me is fine, I guess what I mean is: It’s fine. It’s not a debacle. It’ll do? There are infinitely better movies out there in the world, and also in the smaller circumference of Austin theatres right now, and I encourage you to scan our film reviews to find them.
But you want to know about this movie? Sure. Fine.
This movie opens with Scorpions’ “Wind of Change,” that heartfelt but cringey 1990 power ballad about the winding down of the Cold War. Its reason for being in this movie blew past me (it’s used to much better effect in Alex Holdridge’s In Search of a Midnight Kiss; incidentally, also a better movie). I guess maybe the song is playing on the sad jukebox where the sad Audrey (Kunis) is celebrating her sad birthday? Already driftless, Audrey is now depressed, too, ever since her live-in boyfriend Drew (Theroux) ended things via text. Said dumper – the title’s spy – we meet in the middle of a Lithuanian shootout that establishes early the film’s hard-R, uncartoonish, and surprisingly egalitarian philosophy of violence. (Lots of people get shot in the head here, and they’re not all bad guys!) Audrey doesn’t know about Drew’s day job as a CIA agent until the bullet spray relocates to her L.A. apartment, and from there she’s off to the races, on the run in Europe with her best friend Morgan (McKinnon, extending her patent on kooky), in possession of a highly coveted MacGuffin and unsure who to trust amidst an international array of spies, assassins, and Uber drivers.
Director Susanna Fogel put a lens on female friendship in her first feature, the 2014 indie Life Partners, and that is also The Spy Who Dumped Me’s primary interest. Kunis and McKinnon don’t exactly set the screen on fire with their chemistry, and there are only the most perfunctory shadings to their characters. Still, as the film hopscotches between foreign capitals, the action growing ever more ludicrous with each passport stamp, their friendship becomes the truest, weightiest thing about the film, especially when their level of intimacy is tested in a torture scene that turns out to be the film’s funniest set piece. Fogel and co-writer David Iserson also effectively mine lady-centric micro-jokes from Morgan’s conscious feminism and scene stealer Lolly Adefope as a textbook frenemy.
The other swings for comedy punch, or poke, along the spectrum, including the low-hanging fruit of a swinging nutsack sight gag and a death match played out before an unwitting audience in formal wear who confuse the fisticuffs with performance art. Their clueless applause reminded me of 1978’s Chevy Chase-Goldie Hawn accidentally-stepped-into-criminal-intrigue comedy Foul Play, while a tease of Henry Mancini’s "The Pink Panther Theme" score calls back to an even earlier era of capering comedy. But the movie this movie most recalls is Spy, Paul Feig’s 2015 comedy starring Melissa McCarthy, which betters The Spy Who Dumped Me not just in brevity of title but in execution. The bones are the same: Both films span action and comedy, spy parody and sincere female empowerment hoorahs, bonds of friendship tested and surprising inner resources tapped when staring peril in the face. But only one film boasts nuance, cleverness, a hero worth rooting for, memorable secondary characters, and a light touch with broad humor. The other film has a nutsack sight gag it deems so irresistibly funny it replays it in the closing credits.
Fine, I give up.
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