I felt a steady, unceasing, sinking feeling in my stomach from start to finish of The Spy Who Dumped Me, the new action/comedy starring Mila Kunis and Katie McKinnon. During the first half, it’s clear the jokes aren’t landing, the two leads have little chemistry, and the whole thing plays like every other predictable, forgettable spy farce that wants to be True Lies. Around the second act, the bizarre realization hit me that this actually works much better as an action movie than a comedy, as the car chases and shoot-outs are well staged. Still, more than an hour in, I hadn’t so much as cracked a smile. Then, by the time it crawled to its third act, another realization came into complete focus: This movie is terrible. What begins as mild and uninspired becomes something truly ugly and embarrassing. This is the kind of movie that could kill someone’s career.
Kunis and McKinnon play Audrey and Morgan, two American gals who encounter a handsome, on-the-job agent (played by Justin Theroux) who inadvertently pulls them into his world of espionage, exotic locations, and daily doses of murder. Whereas the trying-to-fix-herself Audrey is frightened to find herself in the midst of shoot-outs and explosions, Morgan is thrilled that her circumstances are now as messy as her regular daily life.
Kunis is the real deal, a vibrant movie star and a gifted actress. The problem is, outside of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, she’s never been in a comedy that deserved her. She’s been in bad movies before (Exhibits A-C: Jupiter Ascending, A Bad Mom’s Christmas, and Friends With Benefits) but never one this pitiful. McKinnon is another comic firecracker, one of the funniest performers currently on “Saturday Night Live” and the very best thing in the limp Ghostbusters remake a year ago. Here, McKinnon rarely stops talking, endlessly improvising weak material and, sadly, gives a truly grating performance.
There are performances here that could have saved it. Paul Reiser and Jane Curtin (another great “SNL” vet) play Morgan’s parents and, in their brief scenes, give this some life. On the other hand, Gillian Anderson’s sourpuss cameo only allows her to demonstrate that she sounds like Angelina Jolie when doing a British accent. Theroux could have been an action movie star and is a striking presence but, in all honesty, he was actually much better playing the Scottish bad guy in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
The recent, very funny SPY and both of the 21 Jump Street vehicles are inspirations for this. It’s a promising idea to place a mismatched comedy duo in a scenario where deadly-serious, heavily armed villains are trying to kill them. The Spy Who Dumped Me earns its R-rating with oodles of profanity but, another unpleasant surprise, it’s offensively violent. Making audiences laugh at the aftermath of graphic bloodshed is nothing new. After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger made a career of that. Here, the cavalier way innocent bystanders and not-so-innocent killers-for-hire are vividly shot in the head, impaled, and tortured feels wrong for an intended comedy. It’s all made more uncomfortable by how thoroughly un-funny it all is, and the blend of ultra-violence and intended buddy comedy shenanigans is hard to take. There’s also a running joke about a very personal, unmentionable place that a flash drive has been hidden – this bit made me feel bad for every actor, mortified for the screenwriter, and depressed for everyone in the audience. The opening credits of any Austin Powers film has more laughs than the entire, punishing two-hour running time of The Spy Who Dumped Me.
Every bad movie has an irredeemable moment and this one has quite the spectacle: Witness the fight scene between McKinnon and the main assassin… taking place on a trapeze. We’re supposed to take it seriously, which is odd, since this is a comedy, but not really, since it’s devoid of laughs. Did the filmmakers look at the footage in the editing room and believe they made a great movie? What they should have done was edit the two leads out of the movie, re-cast and re-shoot it with Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez, and piece it together as a no-nonsense action movie. It might have made a workable B-movie, though it still would have sucked.
Rated R/117 min.
Photo courtesy of IMDB