‘I’ ON CULTURE
I went to The Spy Who Dumped Me with more than a bit of skepticism. Last week, we saw the excellent Mission Impossible: Fallout film, and I doubted I would get much out of this spoof. To my surprise, it was pretty good. It will never be nominated for any awards; it is the kind of film many critics despise and audiences love. In some ways, it is the anti-Mission Impossible film. In the big movie, the heroes can do anything. Tom Cruise, who has never piloted a helicopter, manages a dogfight with another one; his people can take down systems that are “impossible” to defeat. In this film, our leads try to hijack a car and can only go a few feet down a road because neither can drive a stick shift.
Audrey (Mila Kunis) is celebrating her 30th birthday with best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon) by burning the belongings of former boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux), who ended the relationship with a text message. He is the spy, and he disappears in Lithuania. In the meantime, Audrey is grabbed off the street by spies Duffer (Hassan Minhaj) and Sebastian (Sam Heughan) and grilled about the relationship. Afterward, Drew bursts into Audrey’s apartment, is shot to death, and tells her as he dies to bring an old trophy of his to Vienna. Morgan points out that the girls have never been to Europe, and if it’s dangerous, “would you rather die never having been to Europe or see it before you die.”
At that point, the film goes into chase mode with the two girls constantly saving themselves through incredible luck. Sebastian and his CIA friends chase them, as do many bad guys. Among them is insane hit-woman Nadedja (Ivanna Sakhno), who really sets off a couple of hilarious scenes. Along the way, there are a whole lot of twists and turns.
Kunis is a charming lead, and she handles what is essentially the straight woman role really nicely. She is charmingly inept and basically sweet, but she displays a wonderful strength underneath even when she’s at her weakest. Heughan is good as the real male lead. He fits the James Bond model of being good-looking and expert at spycraft. Added to a British (actually Scottish) accent, he is the ideal leading man in a film like this. Minhaj is good as the priggish CIA man, and Sakhno is really memorable in her role as someone both absolutely adorable and eerily vicious.
However, this is Kate McKinnon’s film. She steals most of the scenes she is in and is completely hilarious, almost always doing the wrong thing that somehow works out right. Time after time, she messes up, always defends her crazy actions, and somehow manages to survive. She gives the funniest performance I have seen all year.
Susanna Fogel, the director and co-author, has done a good job, creating a charming movie that beautifully spoofs the spy hero genre. There are times the plot drags, particularly since it is more or less a one-note notion: moving a key “thing” while everyone else on all sides is chasing it. Fogel adds a bit of commentary by having the news media getting things wrong, while minor characters make the typically inane comments we have come to expect about the action.
Rotten Tomatoes notes that only a bit more than a third of the critics liked the film while four out of five viewers liked it. In other words, there is no morally redeeming point to it, but it is funny. A few of the scenes are outright hilarious. It is a story of female bonding and empowerment, and the women work well together as a team. Their friendship seems incredibly solid as the two go through the insanity that is the main plot of the film.
I enjoyed the film, and my wife enjoyed it even more. Several of the women walking out of the theater with us spoke very highly of the movie. The two actresses should be paired up again; they work well together. It’s a slight bit of fun, but this is the time of the year when we can be grateful for anything good.