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Saturday, August 04, 2018

The Spy Who Dumped Me

It's kind of amazing to watch Kate McKinnon in The Spy Who Dumped Me.  The Saturday Night Live star is bringing so much energy and life to her performance, you just have to admire her effort.  Too bad nobody else in this movie shares her enthusiasm, creating an odd tone where the movie seems to be dragging its feet, then the camera will suddenly cut to McKinnon clearly improvising her heart out, and then cut immediately back to the drab and mirthless movie that her performance is trapped in.  I may not have laughed much at what McKinnon was doing or saying, but I still appreciated her being there, because everything else up on the screen was dead on arrival.

The movie tries to cross the girl bonding comedy, with a grisly and hyper-violent spy thriller that has a body count higher than probably every action movie we've had this summer so far combined.  Not surprisingly, the combo does not exactly work.  On one end, you have McKinnon and her co-star Mila Kunis acting silly, throwing out one liners, and shrieking like idiots whenever gunfire or violence erupts around them.  On the other, you have scenes where numerous extras are blown apart, have their necks snapped, and are impaled in bloody detail.  I have no doubt that these two elements could have been combined successfully, but it would take a screenplay that is smarter and brighter than what's on display here.  It would also require better screen chemistry between the lead female stars, and while McKinnon is enjoyable on her own, she never quite clicks with Kunis' performance when they're sharing the screen.  That's probably why the movie keeps on finding ways to keep McKinnon on the sidelines and commenting on the action.  The filmmakers probably knew she worked better on her own.

Kunis plays Audrey, who works as a cashier at an organic food store, and who was recently dumped by her boyfriend of one year, Drew (Justin Theroux), via a text message.  Audrey is ready to move on with the help of her best friend, Morgan (McKinnon), who recommends that they burn all of his belongings.  Of course, that's the precise moment that Drew decides to show up and explain everything about why he suddenly had to leave.  Turns out he's a globe trotting agent for the CIA, and he's gotten himself involved in some very nasty international espionage concerning a terrorist organization.  Through reasons too complicated to recount here, both Audrey and Morgan find themselves in the possession of a flash drive that every spy and Eastern European trained assassin want to get their hands on, and now have to dash wildly across Europe to stay ahead of their pursuers until they figure things out.

They have a hard time sorting out who they can trust.  The audience has a much easier time, as you can pretty much guess who is there to help and who wants to kill them almost as soon as the characters walk on the screen.  All the while, Kunis and McKinnon often act like they're in a completely different movie.  They witness a bloody massacre in a Vienna cafe, and the two can't stop trading yuks with each other as they escape.  A former Olympic Gymnast turned ice-cold killer (Ivanna Sakhno) tortures and bloodies their faces, and all our heroines can do is talk about comically embarrassing secrets about each other.  The movie is a complete tonal miscalculation, mixing ditzy verbal comedy with hard-R gore.  Even when the blood is not flowing, the movie's gags come across as undercooked and awkward.  Case in point: At one point we learn that Morgan's last name happens to be Freeman, and the movie can't get a laugh out of it.

Certain scenes and subplots also feel curiously truncated and cut short.  There are awkward moments that seem to be leading up to a joke, only to have the movie cut to the next scene without a laugh.  There are also some talented actors here, ranging from Jane Curtin to Fred Melamed to Gillian Anderson, all of whom kind of just show up, and then disappear before they can generate a memorable moment or line of dialogue.  I would accuse the movie of being severely hacked in the editing room, but the movie runs nearly two hours and feels long enough as it is, so I don't really know what happened here.  Maybe the screenplay just wasn't that good, and director and co-writer Susanna Fogel thought that McKinnon's non stop improvising would save it.  In order to do that, she would have to be given an actual character to play.  She often comes across that she's just trying to liven up what she knows is a dreary script.

The Spy Who Dumped Me is not only unfunny, it has an unnecessary violent mean streak to it.  And while I admire McKinnon's efforts here, it's clear that Hollywood is not yet sure what to do with her.  She needs to get a chance to develop her own vehicle with a script and a director who knows how to use her, not just be plugged into a lifeless film, and expect she'll automatically make it watchable.

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