The Spy Who Dumped Me is an action-comedy, though not in the old Shane Black sense, of a movie that has exciting action but is also so funny that it’s hard to say whether it’s entirely an action or a comedy. No, this is an action-comedy in the Knight and Day or Snatched sense, where the action and the comedy are separate ingredients that never mix, a little cinematic bento box of genres — one of those movies where we’re asked to buy into an action plot that the characters never buy into themselves. Are we supposed to laugh at it? No, it’s not quite parody. It’s more like a fish-out-of-water plot (“What if Die Hard but with Jerry Lewis!”), an incomplete action script that the characters spend the movie making fun of.
It’s the kind of movie that contains within it what could’ve maybe been a 7 as an action movie and a 7 as a comedy, that an exec must’ve assumed would become a 14 if they smashed them together. Only in practice, it’s more like a 3.5. Because the comedy serves mainly to puncture the realism of the action and the action renders the jokes irrelevant. It’s no wonder the movie ends up being kind of forgettable — it’s devouring itself while we watch.
Mila Kunis plays Audrey, checkout girl at a Trader Joe’s-type store and best friend to Morgan (Kate McKinnon), an aspiring actress who’s always doing something wacky, like turning Audrey’s birthday song into a series of food puns at a Japanese karaoke bar to cheer her up. Audrey needs cheering up because she’s just broken up with her boyfriend, Drew (Justin Theroux), who dumped her via text message. What Audrey doesn’t know, of course, is that Drew is a spy or something. He runs from guys in body armor, jumps off balconies, snaps necks — the whole nine. He’s a spy, okay? What more do you need to know, it’s in the damn title.
Drew ends up slipping Audrey a very important thingy, let’s call it a “macguffin,” which sends her on a chase across Europe to try to get the “package” to the “contact,” all while avoiding various baddies, from Russian mobsters with a psychotic gymnast daughter to corrupt intelligence officers. People die, computers get hacked, cars get smashed. “Trust no one,” Drew tells her.
Kate McKinnon remains brilliant at getting laughs and Mila Kunis retains her girl-next-door charm (despite being the most unconvincing onscreen runner since Angelina Jolie in Salt), but neither are taking seriously this action plot that we’re theoretically meant to believe, so there’s no build or forward momentum or tension. It has lots of laughs and solid joke writing, particularly in a bit where a newscaster reads Audrey and Morgan’s out-of-context Facebook messages on air, but the jokes never add anything to the story, they just distract from it (which it needs, because it’s mostly just an unfinished simulacrum of an action plot). And so it’s kind of like a 90-minute gag reel. We’re either laughing or we’re bored — there’s no in between.
I would’ve liked to see a Mila Kunis-Kate McKinnon buddy comedy. Is the idea that people won’t see that unless you crowbar a bunch of gunfights and car chases into it? Maybe that’s true. It’s sad in any case. The Spy Who Dumped Me‘s action is just so big and loud that it obliterates any quiet character moments or clever wordplay. Kate McKinnon is much funnier than Tom Cruise, but the truth is that Mission Impossible: Fallout is funnier than The Spy Who Dumped Me. Because it’s funnier when actors, and storytellers, commit to a concept than when they stand around wisecracking, even if you mostly enjoy their wisecracks.