In the 80s, one of the weird subgenres that popped up was family goes on vacation, inevitably gets caught up in either spying or jewel thievery. THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME seemed to promise that kind of vibe, slightly reversed. Women get swept up in spy shenanigans and end up in exotic locales along the way. Those comedies of 30 years ago ended up pretty hit or miss. Which side of the equation would THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME fall on?

THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME: Audrey
Mila Kunis draws down in a scene from THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME (Courtesy of Lionsgate Entertainment)

The Idea Behind THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME

Audrey (Mila Kunis) met Drew (Justin Theroux) a year ago on her birthday. For a brief glorious time, he seemed to be the man of her dreams. Now, a year later, another birthday down, and he just dumped her via text message. Only her best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon) is on hand to try to brighten her day.

Things take a turn in a hurry though when Audrey meets Sebastian (Sam Heughan). A former colleague, apparently, of Drew’s, he reveals that Drew was a spy all along. Moreover, without her knowledge, Drew has left behind a very important MacGuffin somewhere in Audrey’s apartment.

Before long, Drew returns, confirming the CIA’s statements. Unfortunately, that leads to him getting shot and Morgan pushing the assassin out the window. In a half panic, Audrey feels compelled to complete her ex’s mission. And like that, she’s off to Vienna with the CIA, a criminal organization, and who knows who else on her tail.

Twists and turns ensue. Not so many laughs though.

THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME: Drew
At least Justin Theroux gets to wear a suit well in THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME. (Courtesy of Lionsgate Entertainment)

The Writing

Well-known TV writer David Iserson collaborated with director Susanna Fogel on this script, their first feature work for both. Despite coming from television, both size up easily; the script never feels like a tv show stretched to double time. That said, the script is pretty paint by numbers.

It builds decent set pieces and keeps the action moving. However, as an action-comedy, jokes tend to also be a requirement. There might be three or four laugh lines in the whole 117 minutes. There are clearly other attempts at humor but several are of the weakest scatological variety.

On the action side of things, the movie never really inspires any kind of adrenaline pumping. The attempts at humor tend to take the air out of scenes. They tend to be well staged, too, so that’s too bad. It seems that the movie feels compelled to try to be funny but not so compelled that it will give more than fifty percent effort.

Lastly, I have to single out Morgan’s characterization. She speaks as an avowed feminist. Her commitment to that viewpoint reaches the point that she takes a louse back to her apartment to educate him about issues of gender and sex. However, her dialogue is also riddled with gendered slurs like bitch and skank.

It isn’t just a language of the film issue. I don’t think anyone else, certainly none of the characters who might be heroes, use slurs, ever. Thus it implies a specific choice. Is the intention to her as hypocritical? If so, why? I have no idea and the movie seems utterly disinterested in exploring that question if that is what is going on.

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Casting The Leads of THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME

Witnessing two actors you know have comic talent be undone by badly scripted jokes makes for a terrible viewing experience. So is the fate of McKinnon and Kunis here. And the viewers too, come down to it.

And as bad as they have it, Justin Theroux has even less to do. So imagine that.

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Casting The Rest Of THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME Call Sheet

See above, for the most part.

Hasan Minaj sells an ongoing joke about his pride in his alum mater — it is a school in Cambridge, wink wink — and gives it considerably more mileage than it has any right to. Jane Curtin and Paul Reiser are agreeably loopy as Morgan’s perennially unfazed parents. It is a pair of trope-y roles but they make it work.

Finally, Ivanna Sakhno as a villainous former gymnast has this whole bizarre vibe. They don’t push it far enough but there are moments — she refers to her balance beam as her best friend with a bittersweet longing, for instance — that spark.

THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME: Nadedja
Ivanna Sakhno prepares a scalpel while dressed as a gymnast, as one does, in THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME. (Courtesy of Lionsgate Entertainment)

Filming

Susanna Fogel has a background in television directing including some comedic vehicles, so I believe she can film comedy. However, she does not do well here with it. I think the reason is that she is way more interested in the action scenes. Admittedly, I am just guessing. I have no inside info on the matter.

However, the guess comes from the fact that the action scenes seem to have received so much more care and attention. There is an energy to them that the specifically comedic scenes are noticeably lacking. Thus while having to balance the two means the movie ends up lesser, it points to a future where Fogel could become a go-to woman director for action, something that Hollywood could always benefit from.

THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME: Morgan and Audrey
Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis are totally acting like real spies in this scene from THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME. (Courtesy of Lionsgate Entertainment)

Striking the Set

We have had a string of good luck with higher budget comedies with action components recently including DATE NIGHT, TAG, and BLOCKERS. The streak had to end somewhere and it turns out that sometime is now. THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME rarely achieves funny.

It’s strong action moments are undermined by those half-hearted attempts. If you are hungry for a spy movie that delivers on the action and comedy, revisit SPY with Melissa McCarthy and Jason Statham. It is a far better way to spend your time.

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