Review: ‘The Spy Who Dumped Me’ Is a Buddy Comedy With a Body Count

Posted August 2, 2018 1:16 p.m. EDT

In its opening minutes, “The Spy Who Dumped Me” hops from a shootout in Vilnius, Lithuania, to a birthday celebration in Los Angeles. Audrey (Mila Kunis) is turning 30 in the wake of an abrupt breakup — via text — with one of the gunmen, a skinny dude named Drew (Justin Theroux) whose profession was a secret to Audrey. The title of this pleasantly silly, sometimes jarringly violent comedy, directed by Susanna Fogel (who wrote the script with David Iserson), is not terribly ambiguous, and I have now explained it fully.

But Drew, who shows up back in California to trade a few more bullets and explain himself to Audrey, is as close to beside the point as a heavily armed, lethally trained international operative can be. Espionage is not what this movie is about, and romance is not either. Yes, there are chases through various European capitals and another cute secret agent for Audrey to flirt with once Drew is sidelined, but the engine that drives the plot and sparks the jokes is her friendship with Morgan (Kate McKinnon).

“The Spy Who Dumped Me” departs from buddy-movie conventions in an important way. Audrey and Morgan are not the usual oil-and-water pair of natural antagonists thrown together by circumstance so they can squabble their way to mutual appreciation. Instead, their bond is a constant, an absolute, the one thing in a world of lies and murderous double-crosses that is not subject to doubt. “Don’t trust anyone,” Drew warns Audrey, which is reasonable enough advice. But it is also implicit that the exception to the rule is Morgan, even though — or just because — Morgan is a complete goofball.

McKinnon is too inventive to make the character a standard, zany rom-com sidekick. There is no real precedent for her highly disciplined comic anarchy, but McKinnon reminds me a little of Peter Sellers in her command of voice, face and body and her ability to turn every scene into a popcorn popper of verbal and physical surprise.

Morgan, an aspiring actress, says whatever is on her mind and seems immune to embarrassment. She either does not realize how ridiculous she is or does not care. But unlike Sellers’ similarly clueless characters, who were hermetically sealed in their own delusional realities, Morgan is eager for connection. She shares everything with her parents (Jane Curtin and Paul Reiser) and fangirls over the steely head of British intelligence (Gillian Anderson). She is thrilled to acquire a nemesis, a gymnast-turned-assassin named Nadedja (Ivanna Sakhno).

At times, Kunis seems stranded in Zeppo territory while McKinnon channels the other three Marx Brothers at the same time. But the two of them find a relaxed, nimble rhythm that keeps the movie going through so-so action sequences and less-than-fresh plot twists. Sam Heughan, as a spy who did not dump anyone, does the hunky Hemsworth-brother-type thing with reasonable aplomb, and Hasan Minhaj steals a scene or two as his status-conscious partner.

The body count is high for this kind of caper, but the mayhem is weightless. This is partly because “The Spy Who Dumped Me” breezes through the clichés of the action genre with cynical weariness, and partly because Audrey and Morgan are having too much fun to be properly terrified. They seem at first like ordinary, innocent people caught up in a deadly geopolitical game, but it turns out that they are the only ones in the movie who understand what it is really about. Patriotism is fungible. Love is capricious. Bestiness is all you can really depend on.

“The Spy Who Dumped Me" is rated R. Dirty talk and gunplay. Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes.