By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)

 

The latest U.S. comedy to undermine the genre and insult the audience’s intelligence, The Spy Who Dumped Me takes what should be a surefire popcorn pleasure and transforms it into a bloated, unwieldy bore, crushing expectations for what seems like an eternity.

Mila Kunis stars as Audrey, an L.A. grocery store clerk whose life has remained on hold for years. Standing by her side is longtime friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon), an unemployed actor who pushes her extroverted behaviour on everyone around her. When Audrey’s new boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) breaks up via text message, both her and Morgan decide to burn his meagre belongings, leading to a hurried phone call from the ex saying he will be there to pick up his things asap. What the two don’t realise is that Drew is a CIA agent, currently in Lithuania and in the middle of a violent tussle with various rival assassins.

Soon after this, Audrey and Morgan find themselves in the presence of MI6 operatives Sebastian (Sam Heughan) and Duffer (Hasan Minhaj), informing the pair of Drew’s true occupation, and a secret file he has that every government agency wants, one that will destroy the world as they know it if it falls into the wrong hands. Bemused and justifiably cautious, Audrey and Morgan don’t know who to trust, yet have no option but to head to Vienna for a meeting that will hopefully bring all this chaos to an end. The opposite happens of course, as the two are soon bouncing across all of Europe, dodging the CIA, MI6, and KGB in an effort to stay alive, while trying to stay in possession of the sought after file.

The Spy Who Dumped Me shoots itself in the foot from the very beginning, opening with a routine fight/chase sequence that comes across as a low-rent TV variation on the Mission Impossible and Bourne films, offering up bloody carnage instead of good-natured laughs. When Audrey and Morgan are introduced, it is nothing more than a flat collection of ad-libs and low-brow one-liners, instantly distancing us from the two main characters. Add to this clumsy flashbacks showing how Audrey and Drew met, and we have a film that is already swimming against the tide.

A weak, under-developed script constantly gets in the way of Kunis and McKinnon creating any chemistry whatsoever, and this problem is further exacerbated by the surprisingly violent action overwhelming the frequently limp humour. Graphic mayhem and hilarious comedy can go hand-in-hand (just ask Peter Jackson), with Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg hitting bullseyes with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Though advertised as a straight-up comedy, this film seems to want to be more along the lines of the Lethal Weapon movies, combining highly charged thrills and spills with very funny dialogue, delivered by a gallery of characters we get to know and love. Unfortunately this never happens here.

Co-writer/director Susanna Fogel (whose only other feature is the 2014 rom-com Life Partners, which also had McKinnon in its cast) keeps proceedings unfocused and ill-disciplined throughout, turning what should be a breezily enjoyable 90 minutes into an interminable 116. One could understand the lengthy running time if the writing was strong, establishing and shaping three dimensional characters who have to navigate a compelling environment and plot, but Fogel and fellow scribe David Iserson (who penned episodes of The United States of Tara, New Girl, Mad Men, Mr. Robot, and SNL) never come close to achieving this, relying instead on flimsy story threads, one-note caricatures, and plentiful ad-libbing, too much of which painfully misfires. Fogel’s direction is equally uninspired, and she appears incapable of weaving the funny with the frenetic effectively.

In regards to ad-libbing, Fogel continues the trend of modern American comedies by allowing her cast to throw out as many improvised lines as possible, no matter if they are funny or not, which quickly smothers any comic potential in the material, but also needlessly protracts every single scene to the point where you are pulling your hair out, wishing it would all just end. Ad-libbing can work (Bill Murray is, and the late Robin Williams was, a master at this), but when it doesn’t (The Mexican, with Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt, is a prime example), the results can be disastrous, causing a comedy to at-first become lead-footed, then unceremoniously sink like a stone.

All this comedic self-indulgence seems to have been kick-started by Judd Apatow, whose box-office hits The 40 Year-Old Virgin (116 & 133 minute cuts), Knocked Up (129 minutes), Funny People (a whopping 146 minutes), and This Is 40 (134 minutes) were crammed with on-set shenanigans, only a portion of which were actually funny, diluting material which had pretty sound foundations. Another culprit is Paul Feig, who allowed lightweight projects like Bridesmaids (125 minutes), The Heat (120 minutes), Spy (119 & 130 minute cuts), and Ghostbusters (116 & 134 minute cuts) to easily outstay their welcome by not knowing when to say ‘cut’. One longs for the comedies of the 1980’s, where this kind of silliness was efficiently contained to 90-odd minutes (or less).

Kunis and McKinnon undoubtably try hard, but without a decent script to work with, it ends up being a lost cause for both of them. In fact, Kunis’ character here could easily be the one she played in the Bad Moms movies. McKinnon, a genuinely gifted comedian who has proven in the past how funny she can be, again frustrates with her choice in movie scripts. Along with Ghostbusters, Rough Night and Office Christmas Party (although she did manage a couple of amusing moments in Office), McKinnon is once more hamstrung by substandard material, and to try and compensate, turns up the volume and starts flailing wildly, all to little effect. The only amusing scene comes when the pair attempt to steal an elderly couple’s prestige car, only to encounter some old-school problems.

The supporting cast have very little to do (particularly a noticeably lost Gillian Anderson), and one wishes more time was given to McKinnon’s open-minded parents, agreeably played by Jane Curtain and Paul Reiser.

The Spy Who Dumped Me proves to be a tiresome, obnoxious, and extremely overlong ordeal (even setting itself up for a possible sequel) where audiences will walk away probably thinking more about the surprising amount of bloodletting, rather than the laughs they were originally expecting. Similarly spy-themed comedies, such as Penny Marshall’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986), starring an in-form Whoopi Goldberg, or John Landis’ hilarious Cold War adventure Spies Like Us (1985), with Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd, are infinitely more fun, written, directed, and crafted to a nicety, and all within the framework of a wholly appropriate running time.

Rating: 1/5

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