The Spy Who Dumped Me (Susanna Fogel, 2018) 1½ out of 4 stars
Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon play classic fish out water characters flopping about in a world of gunplay and car chases in The Spy Who Dumped Me, directed by Susanna Fogel, and co-starring Justin Theroux, Sam Heughan, and Gillian Anderson. After celebrating another lackluster birthday, Audrey, played by Kunis, and her best friend Morgan, played by McKinnon, are dumbfounded when her ex-boyfriend Drew, played by Theroux, barges back into her life and tells her that he is a C.I.A. agent. Uncertain if Drew has gone off the deep end for good, Audrey and Morgan stumble into the crossfire of rogue foreign assassins and MI6 operatives, played by Sam Heughan and Gillian Anderson. These people are armed, dangerous, and desperate to find a hard drive which retains vital information that could put a lot of people in danger.
Susanna Fogel gives the direction and space her two leading ladies need to develop their infectious chemistry but fails to provide the bankable elements of the spy and comedy genres with the same amount of love. Considering the quantity of plot exposition crammed into every second of the film’s runtime, it’s incredible how many of its scenes feel directionless, led solely by Kate McKinnon’s improvisation. Comedies structured around improvised scenes can bring a level of unpredictability to the cinematic experience; however, if the director fails to know when to yell cut, then an hour-and-a-half-long film can feel like two hours.
Fogel and co-screenwriter David Iserson treat the iconography of the spy films in their script as an obligation rather than as loyal fans wanting to create a new dimension for the genre. When the script has run out of jokes or all-around wit, it resorts to forced, exploitative violence. A similar female-led spy comedy that tried the same balancing act three years ago, and succeeded, was Paul Feig’s Spy, starring Melissa McCarthy. Susanna Fogel wants to jump right into the payoff of the buddy comedy and the hair-raising spy action but refuses to fully commit to the vital setup commonly found in a film’s first act. Without this setup, and without the proper emotional context, the enjoyment audiences have had with these genres for decades falls flat on its face.