A TONALLY UNBALANCED SPY PARODY
Comedy films are a dime a dozen, examining the value of laughter within various types of jokes and gags in order to drum up entertainment humor within its viewers. While this genre has parody / satire other genres of movies, the combination of the comedy mixed with the action spy genre has been one of the more interesting ones to tackle. The blending of action aesthetics and bountiful spy nuances (secret agents, villainous baddies, high-tech gadgets, etc.) with the humorous beats of comedy is indeed an odd one, but has essentially proven to work, producing a concoction (if done right) that’s effective in both their respective categories. This includes films like 1985’s Spies Us, 1997’s Austin Powers (and its two sequential sequels), 2003’s Johnny English, 2008’s Get Smart, 2012’s This Means War, and 2015’s Spy are proof that the parring of spy / action aspects could effectively work underneath the guise of a comedy movie. Now, Lionsgate (and Imagine Entertainment) and director Susanna Fogel present the latest movie in the spy comedy subgenre with the film The Spy Who Dumped Me. Does the feature strike a balance between spy action and big laughs comedy or is it an unremarkable endeavor that doesn’t go anywhere?
Audrey Stockton (Mila Kunis) is a regular 30-year old woman from LA who is struggling to get over Drew (Justin Theroux), her recent ex-boyfriend who broke up with her almost a year after they first met (and on her birthday), with no real explanation as to why. Supported her eccentric best friend Morgan Freeman (Kate McKinnon), Audrey does her best to move on. However, everything changes when Audrey learns why Drew dumped her in the first place…. namely due to the fact that he’s an undercover CIA agent being hunted by some dangerous people who are now trying to kill Audrey and Morgan, in their efforts to get to him. Before they know it, Audrey and Morgan are swept into Drew’s cover spy world, taking a globe-hopping adventure that takes them across Europe, while being pursed by arms dealers, assassins, and other nefarious criminals who are trying get ahold of a mysterious item that Drew wanted them to protect. Also hot on their tails are an international team of agents, with Sebastian Shaw (Sam Heughan), an enigmatic MI6 operative agent who claims he just wants to protect Audrey and Morgan from the “real” bad guys. Now, it’s up to Audrey and Morgan to solve the mysterious and who they can really trust in this dangerous world of spies and assassins.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Being considered a somewhat cinephile (at least I like to consider myself as one…ha-ha), I’ve been a fan of the comedy genre, getting my kicks with some laugh-out-louds moments within the plethora of sly jokes and hilarious sight gags. wise, the spy genre has always fascinated, with the whole secretive covert world spies, villains, and gadgets galore (most notably in the famous James Bond film series). I love both genres. Thus, it comes at no surprise that I do like spy comedy films. There are only a few out there, but some are (of course) downright hilarious; each one bringing their sense of charm and style to the film’s proceedings (despite having the same sort of undercurrent throughout). What do I mean? It’s like this…. the Austin Power movies are more like a spoof off of the old James Bond movies (especially the first film), This Means War, while is considered a spy comedy endeavor, has elements of a romantic-comedy (rom-com) and is sometimes labeled as one, and Spy has the comedy collaboration styles of director Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy. So, in a nutshell, each one brings something new to the table (more or less), each one discerning itself under the cinematic identity of being called a spy comedy motion picture.
Naturally, this brings me around to talking about the film The Spy Who Dumped Me, which (of course) is a cheeky play on words to 1977’s James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me and author Ian Fleming’s 1962 novel of the same name. I remember hearing about this movie online for quite some time, hearing that actresses Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon (both of whom I like) were gonna be attached to the film. I was immediately intrigued by this, since both are quite adept in comedy films (most recently with McKinnon catalogue of work) and seeing the movie two trailers (online and in theaters) made me every eager to see this movie. However, my parents saw an advance screening of the movie before I did (I was working that night when the screening happened) and told me that it was only okay and a slightly disappointing. This, of course, started to put some doubt into my mind and into my inherit hype / expectations for the movie. Still, I went into the movie with the classic “hoping for the best, but expecting the worst” type vibe, but I didn’t initially see it in theaters right away and waited a bit before purchasing a ticket to see it. What did I think of the movie? To be honest, it was disappointing. While the movie has some positives, The Spy Who Dumped Me is simply a waste of several talents, a humorous buddy spy super sleuth, and just downright unfunny.
The Spy Who Dumped Me is directed by Susanna Fogel, who previous directed such films like Life Partners and Play by Play as well as being a writer for such projects as Joni & Susanna and Chasing Life. Thus, the movie makes for Fogel’s most ambitious project to date, helming a fairly large project with some big-name actors / actresses in the roles of the various characters in the story. To her credit, Fogel does stage a classic comedy spy “romp” for the movie, plucking Audrey and Morgan out of their natural element and placing them in foreign place, filled with spies, assassins, and plenty of shootouts / car chases. It’s a tried and true formula that has proven to work (as a narrative structure path) and Fogel seems to know that, playing up that notion throughout the feature. The story takes place in a globe-trotting European adventure (traveling to one lavish location to the next), while puncturing the feature with some wacky (slightly over-the-top scenarios) and spy action nuances. Again, it’s all amusing and does semi-work, but not completely (more on that below). Additionally, there is a bit of fun in watching Kunis and McKinnon collaborating together on-screen, seeing their characters of Audrey and Morgan bouncing off and interacting with a completely hostile spy world and then just trying to survive it. And to that end, Fogel mostly succeeds.
As a film presentation, The Spy Who Dumped Me is actually pretty good, utilizing its spy aspect to influence the feature throughout. Naturally, this aspect comes to play within its various setting and locales, so the film’s art direction team and set decoration team should be mentioned, providing enough “visual” flair for many of background locations and decorum set pieces. Additionally, the film’s cinematography work done by Barry Peterson is also good (using some slick camera angles and lighting effects in some key sequences) and the costume designs by Alex Bovaird are solid, especially when it pertains to spy inspired parts of the film. Lastly, the movie’s score, which was composed by Tyler Bates, is pretty good, adding that extra layer of musical melodies (both dramatic or whimsical) throughout the feature.
Unfortunately, The Spy Who Dumped Me strives to be a lot (and then some), but it mostly just ends up being a disappointment more often that most. Perhaps the most notable one (at least to me) is how tonally unbalanced the movie is. Every movie (regardless of genre) needs to find a proper balance within finds its “tonally voice” in which to execute the narrative being told. The Spy Who Dumped Me (or rather Susanna Fogel) doesn’t really achieve that quality of balance, making the film (throughout most of its endeavor) an odd balance of action and comedy. It’s clear from the get-go that Fogel is trying to make this movie be like Paul Feig’s 2015 movie Spy, which (love it or hate it) was one of actress Melissa McCarthy’s better movies. However, while Feig’s Spy had the right amount of comedic leverage and action spy nuances, Fogel’s The Spy Who Dumped Me is very messy in its tonally themes and ends up being more haphazard than anything else.
Contributing to that effect is the fact that the movie’s action components are very generic (as if they were done in another movie, but better) and also way too violent. What do I mean by “way too violent”? Well, I mean gory over-the-top violent scenes almost like the movie (and its characters) slipped into one of the Deadpool movies. Personally, it was all too much and felt completely out of place in a action / comedy like this. To that effect, it has a few moments that are “shock and awe”, but the whole “shock and awe” novelty wears off and becomes more of hinderance that cripples the movie. Making it worse that Fogel keeps that notion going throughout the narrative, finding the characters of Audrey and Morgan in the super violent world of shootouts and bizarrely gory fighting / chase sequences. Basically, the action / violence in the movie, which Fogel wanted to be cool and fun, ultimately ends up being totally unnecessarily violent and way too much, especially in a movie that should be more comedy than action.
Adding to that fact is the film’s comedy aspect, which is disappointingly not funny. Yes, there are a few parts that were amusing and did make a chuckle a few times, but the movie’s comedy nuances were pretty bland for most of the feature. This makes it even more disappointing when you factor in the fact that the film’s two female leads (i.e. Kunis and McKinnon) are actually quite adept in the comedy fields, but even their natural acting talents alone can only carry them so far with the incredible weak / bland material that’s give to them. Thus, the sum parts of the comedy never really work, producing only a few chuckle filled moments with the rest of the movie squandering its moments with a pretty vanilla laughs that aren’t that quite funny or sharp. In short, The Spy Who Dumped Me tries to wacky and humorous, but ends up being dry and (most of the time) misses its laugh-out-loud mark.
The other problem with the movie is the actually spy nuance in the movie. While comedy parodies of these spy / action flicks have been a bit commonplace in their respective (and multiple) undertakings, it usually can be overlooked if the rest of the movie is, more or less, on-point with both its narrative structure and entertainment onset value. Unfortunately, since Fogel’s attempts in trying to find a balance doesn’t hold up, the spy aspects in The Spy Who Dumped Me are very noticeable….and that’s not a good thing. Its all the commonly used ones that are both quite familiar and have done before in other films, including secret agents, double-crossing, fake deaths, car chases, gun shootouts, and so on and so forth. Again, it’s okay to use them, if a movie can stand on its own merits and find its cinematic groove. However, the movie just seems bland and purely and cliché derivate to the touch, making a lot of the twists and turns fairly predictable as well as the entire film from start to finish. Thus, the film’s contributing screenplay writers, which done by both Fogel and David Iverson, are weak, producing the movie’s narrative story / plot in such a lazy and non-clever way. It’s as if both Fogel and Iverson are winking every time the movie (or its characters) are trying to funny and / or clever, but the fact of the matter is that it they are and the movie isn’t (like they’re trying to tell a good joke, but its one of those “inside” jokes that they are laughing at). All in all, The Spy Who Dumped Me could’ve been something truly great, humorous, and fun (despite a few common clichés and tropes here and there), but the movie just ends up being tonally unbalanced, lackadaisical in its storytelling, and just plain unfunny in most of its comedic endeavors.
The cast in The Spy Who Dumped Me has a few recognizable faces (some big-name ones) that are offer a role in the various cast of characters in the movie. Unfortunately, most of them scat by through their sheer natural acting talents and not by how well-developed their characters. Thus, their performances (as a whole) are generally favorable, but their characters are woefully cliché, cookie cutter spy cutouts that lack depth and sense of insight into their personas beyond what’s initial presented. At the head of the pack is the film’s two leads characters of Audrey Stockton and Morgan Freeman (yes, I know the name and I just rolled my eyes when I heard it as her character name), who are played by actress Mila Kunis and Katie McKinnon. Kunis, known for her roles in Bad Moms, Jupiter Ascending, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, has proven to handle herself well in a movie’s lead role and does so in this one, making Audrey have a good presence throughout the film. Unfortunately, while Kunis’s acting talents are solid, the movie doesn’t used her (as an actress) to her fullest potential; somewhat squandering most of her comedic talents in the movie. So, majority of the movie has Audrey just simply reacting to a lot of stuff happening, with Kunis just simply “going through the motions”. This again goes back to what I said above of how the film’s direction / script being completely derivate and clunky throughout. The same thing can be said with Morgan. Known for her roles in Office Christmas Party, Ferdinand, and Saturday Night Live, McKinnon has proven herself to be a somewhat “rising star” in the comedy films of late, with her appearance in feature films become more prominent. That being said, the same thing with Kunis is the same thing that happens with McKinnon in the movie as the material given to her is pretty bland and weak, which makes her character utterly “blah”. Yes, McKinnon tries her best with what’s given to play around with in the movie and does have a few funny dialogue lines (that work), but it ultimately falls flat. Basically, Fogel’s endeavors and direction for The Spy Who Dumped Me doesn’t really work for Kunis and McKinnon in the movie; finding both actresses not utilized to their full potential (and in the right way) and making the film lackluster, despite having a surefire comedic powerhouse.
Who probably fares the best (in the movie) is actor Sam Heughan who plays the role of secret agent operative Sebastian Henshaw in the movie. Heughan, known for his roles in Outlander, Islands at War, and A Princess for Christmas, handles himself very finely as the suave secret agent character architype. There’s not much creative build added to his character (something along the lines of other classic spy tropes), but Heughan is great in the leading male role and is probably (in my opinion) the most memorable character in the film. Personally (to me), he’ll always be James Alexander Malcolm MacKenize Fraser from Starz’s Outlander. Still, it was pretty good to see him play outside that role and pull it off well. As a secondary / supporting leading man is actor Justin Theroux, who plays the role of Drew Thayer. Known for his roles in The Girl on the Train, The Leftovers, and American Psycho, Theroux handles himself well in the supporting lead role. Problem with Theroux’s character Drew is the fact that he isn’t that much into the movie. There’s nothing wrong with Theroux’s performance (it’s a solid one), but, given to how the story plays out, the film doesn’t really have much to go on the character of Drew…that’s to say beyond the film’s initial premise setup (and a few flashback sequences). Basically (without spoiling the movie, it’s kind of like Jude Law’s character in Spy (if you know what I mean).
Rounding out the film’s cast (in minor supporting capacities) are handful of individuals, including Hasan Minhaj (The Daily Show and Disaster Date) as Sebastian’s CIA co-worker official Duffer (a running gag about him attending school is not really funny), actress Ivanna Sakhno (Pacific Rim: Uprising and Can’t Take It Back) as Nadedja (a Russian model / assassin that acts as an antagonist to Audrey and Morgan for most of the feature), and actress Gillian Anderson (X-Files and The Fall) as Sebastian’s operative superior / boss Wendy. Again, most of these actors / actresses deliver favorable acting performances, but their characters are so woefully undeveloped (even as minor supporting ones) that they come off as thinly written / stock-like cardboard characters that mostly serve various plot functions or trying to find a few cheap laughs, which don’t work.
Audrey and Morgan team up together and go “undercover”, exploring the hidden covert world that Audrey’s ex-boyfriend lived in the movie The Spy Who Dumped Me. Director Susanna Fogel latest films sees the classic spy aspect mesh with today’s action appeal and comedy whims. Unfortunately, while there is some decent fun to its premise, a nice presentation, and seeing members of the cast come together (on-screen), majority of the feature tonally unbalanced, derivate in its plot / story, unnecessarily uber violent, totally unfunny throughout most of its comedy aspects, and mostly waste its principal cast (especially Kunis and McKinnon) on such a bland endeavor. To me, I was disappointed with this movie, especially given the fact that I was looking forward to seeing this movie. It had all the right ingredients, but was just poorly executed; producing a surprise dud of a comedy / action feature. Thus, recommendation for this movie is a definite “skip it” as the movie never really offers up that much of what it wants to be nor what was promised in its promotional marketing / initial setup premise. Basically….just watch Paul Feig’s Spy instead(you’ll be much happier than watching this film). All in all, while the movie wants to be super funny and entertaining, the truth is that The Spy Who Dumped Me can’t, serving up an action / comedy spy feature that doesn’t have creative appetite for its own formula of violent action and lackluster gag jokes.
2.4 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: August 3rd, 2018
Reviewed On: September 1st, 2018
The Spy Who Dumped Me is 116 minutes long and is rated R for violence, language throughout, some crude sexual material and graphic nudity