Susanna Fogel’s The Spy Who Dumped Me reminds me of The Hitman’s Bodyguard, but it probably shouldn’t. Both are two-hander action comedies. Both feature comic characters journeying across European countries toward a singular goal. Both were released in August, the dying-end of the Summer movie season.
Otherwise, comparison doesn’t seem warranted. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is incompetently shot and flat. The Spy Who Dumped Me exhibits a level of competency in its action filmmaking that exceeds what is required for an action comedy. In most respects, the action is better than the comedy.
Better, too, is the chemistry of lead characters in The Spy Who Dumped Me. As Audrey (Mila Kunis) and her best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon) get roped into an international espionage conspiracy involving a highly-coveted fantasy football trophy, their relationship only reads stronger. Viewed solely through the lens of their friendship, the film is a resounding success.
Audrey is introduced to this extremely dangerous spy world via her ex-boyfriend (Justin Theroux), who suddenly reappears in her life after he learns that she and Morgan are about to burn all of his belongings. Wanting to protect the trophy, which he needs to exchange with an aliased figure in Europe, he returns to Audrey’s apartment and is promptly set upon by assassins.
Following this, Audrey and Morgan decide to travel to Europe and make the exchange. What ensues is an exhausting slew of gunfights, fist fights, torture sequences, and chases. Most of it is staged in an entertaining fashion, but it adds up to a product that is far too heavy for a comedy film. As the body count rises, the snarky asides that characters make come off more strange than funny.
The comedy is, weirdly, the weakest aspect of The Spy Who Dumped Me. The film follows a Kingsman formula of matching kinetic, violent action with a comic sensibility. Kingsman, for all of its flaws, mixes these two tones smoothly by sporting a grim wit. Spy, on the other hand, tries for a more broad comic take. McKinnon tosses cheeky barbs throughout the film, even after her character murders a person. After this first instance of killing a nameless hired gun, her character freaks out (rightfully so). But this very scene ends with her cracking wise as if no traumatic violence had occurred.
This is perhaps the reason why the comedy does not work. It is not as if the scripted jokes are unfunny. In fact, most of them are clever. But how they are utilized within the life-or-death stakes of the film doesn’t work. McKinnon, as always, exercises a charisma and comedic delivery that makes getting a laugh look easy. It just isn’t a personality that functions properly in this context.
The most humorous scene in the movie is, counter-intuitively, one of its darkest. Audrey and Morgan find themselves captured by a hired mercenary (Ivanna Sakhno). Tied up, bloodied, and on the verge of being killed, the two heroes find themselves at their lowest point. The assassin is genuinely unnerving, and she gives no quarter when it comes to hurting the pair for information. What makes the comedy work in this instance is that Audrey and Morgan make humorous statements that fit the tone of the scene. The dialogue is not merely funny, but it functions as part of the stakes of the scene.
Elsewhere, the comedy is thrown out as addenda at the conclusion of action sequences. The comedy comments on the action, as if the characters are not part of the action. In this outlier moment with Sakhno’s mercenary, tension and humor meld into an effective tone that elevates the entire sequence. The action and the comedy balance out perfectly.
On the whole, though, The Spy Who Dumped Me struggles to strike this balance. It is a visible struggle, where the comedy and the action are never effective simultaneously. As a comedy, in which the lightened tone adds to the strength of the heroes’ relationship, the action serves as a diversion. As an action film, the comedy awkwardly breaks up the tension and stakes.
The Spy Who Dumped Me is not The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Bodyguard is entirely forgettable, visually flat, and only sparingly humorous. The Spy Who Dumped Me, in both its action and its comedy, shows much more energy. It just fails to strike a balance, and, as such, the comedy often does not land.
The Spy Who Dumped Me: C+
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)