erik lundegaard

Movie Review: The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)

WARNING: SPOILERS

There’s a moment about 45 minutes into “The Spy Who Dumped Me” that made me laugh.

Our main characters, Audrey and Morgan (Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon), two American girls caught up in international spy intrigue, are on the run for their lives in Europe. Unbeknownst to them, Nadedja (Ivanna Sakhno), an international model/gymnast/assassin (you know the type), has been sent to Prague to kill them, and, I assume, retrieve the maguffin in Audrey’s possession. She’s getting in position over Prague’s Old Town Square and asks her superior, via earpiece, who she’s looking for. Response: “Targets are two dumb American women.” She raises her rifle, looks through the scope, sees:

  • two girls posing for a picture, one flipping the bird, the other doing the flicking-tongue-under-v-sign gesture
  • a hung-over girl on a bridge throwing up into the water below while her friend holds her hair back
  • two girls doing a bump-and-grind against a shrouded medieval statue, and, per subtitles, “both whooping”

The Spy Who Dumped Me reviewAt which point, realizing the impossibility of her task, she lowers her rifle.

That’s a good bit.

The rest of the movie is simply empowerment of those same dumb American women.

Us/them
Our heroes are amateurs who bungle their way into international espionage and thrive there. The outlandishness that makes Morgan “a bit much” in the real world is perfect for distraction, while Audrey, 30 and going nowhere with her life, has real talent for the spy game. Before, she couldn’t lie. Now she’s adept at it. She’s good at the bait-and-switch, at killing (via all those Friday-night video arcade shooting games), and at hiding the maguffin where the sun don’t shine. Sure, innocent people die (Uber driver), but our girls wind up feeling good about themselves, and isn’t that what’s important?

Audrey also gets to kill the duplicitous spy who dumped her (Justin Theroux) and win the spy who’s loyal (Sam Heugan). Both women get new, sexy careers. They start out the movie as us (stunted, marginal) and wind up the movie as them (heroic, central). The thing they were brought in to mock is what they become. 

Sound familiar? It should. Think: “The Other Guys,” “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” “The LEGO Movie,” and “21/22 Jump Street.”

Here’s an excerpt from my 2015 review of “Spy” starring Melissa McCarthy:

Most genre spoofs occur when Hollywood takes someone who looks and acts like us (a schlub) and places them in an exciting genre movie (western, action-adventure, spy thriller). The laughs come when the schlub tries to live up to the genre and falls flat, while the catharsis comes when the schlub becomes the wish-fulfillment fantasy figure in the end. The genre may be mocked but it ultimately wins. Wish-fulfillment fantasy wins. We want us on the screen but no we don’t; we’d rather see them.

“Spy” did the genre spoof better because McCarthy’s character wasn’t a schlub; she was assistant to a superspy (Jude Law) but actually competent. I.e., more competent than the men. She’d just never been given the chance. But when Jude appears to die in the first reel, she gets it. The comedy comes in how less-than-glamorous her version of the spy game is. It’s really a feminist/lookist take within the genre spoof. 

This isn’t that. “Dumped Me” reverts us back to the stupid norm. It pretends that you can join late with zero experience and still master the game. 

Funny/not funny
That’s not what dooms it, though. It's just not funny. I think I laughed fewer than 10 times. I liked the bit about driving the manual-transmission car into the kiosk at 2 mph. I liked Cheesecake Factory menus compared to the novels of Dostoevsky. I liked Paul Reiser and Jane Curtain as the parents, and Reiser’s line reading on Woody Harrelson. And not much else. 

Some of the action sequences are surprisingly good but has McKinnon ever been less funny? Has Kunis made a smart decision since “Black Swan”?

“Targets are two dumb American women.” The movie’s targets are many dumb American women. Based on its pallid box office, it didn’t hit them, either.

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Posted at 08:54 AM on Tue. Dec 11, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018  
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