By now, it's an all-too-familiar story. Put the human ball of hilarity that is Kate McKinnon in a film and it instantly improves. It was true in Office Christmas Party, Rough Night and Masterminds, no matter how average, sometimes awful those movies ultimately were. It's true again in The Spy Who Dumped Me as well. Thankfully, however, the Saturday Night Live standout isn't a rare diamond this time around. McKinnon's latest action-comedy doesn't always hit the mark, but it entertains in both the action and comedy departments — complete with death by fondue, affairs with Edward Snowden and completely relatable gushing over Gillian Anderson.
That said, even when she's declaring that Anderson's MI6 boss is "the Beyonce of the government", and delivering other one-liners and asides with gusto, McKinnon is only one half of The Spy Who Dumped Me's modest charms. Mila Kunis is the other, playing the straighter role against McKinnon's gloriously goofy energy. Together, they not only make an engaging comedic pair, but furnish a funny, mayhem-fuelled ode to female friendship. That's the film's secret weapon. Director Susanna Fogel doesn't just throw women into the usually male-dominated realm of big-screen espionage, and nor is she content to just laugh as ordinary folks get caught up in the spy world. Rather, she shows that her characters cope with their new outlandish life by relying on each other.
It's a recognisable scenario, even when it isn't. Girl meets boy, they bond over beers and bad jukebox songs, and then settle into a comfortable relationship. A year later, grocery store cashier Audrey (Kunis) is suddenly dumped by text, and aspiring actress Morgan (McKinnon) is her trusty shoulder to cry on. What they don't know is that Audrey's ex, Drew (Justin Theroux), is a lethal CIA agent immersed in a globe-trotting plot. When they find out, it's courtesy of two fellow operatives (Sam Heughan and Hasan Minhaj), a hook-up gone wrong and a shower of gunfire — plus a promise to travel to Europe to finish Drew's mission. "Do you want to die having never been to Europe, or do you want to die having been to Europe?" Morgan asks.
Hopping between Vienna, Prague, Paris and Berlin, Audrey and Morgan try to do what's right, work out who they can trust and, of course, not die even though they've now been to Europe. And they do it all amidst cafe shootouts, an eventful Uber ride, stealing from Australian tourists, chatting about Balzac and trying to outrun the icy Russian gymnast turned model turned assassin (Ivanna Sakhno) on their trail. Whether you're a seasoned spy flick fan or barely know your Bond from your Bourne, everything you expect to happen happens. Well, almost everything, with the Cirque du Soleil finale a zany surprise. But even when the film seems predictable (and stretches its material about 30 minutes too far), the hyper-violent set-pieces always come with a slice of humour, the gags always inspire at least giggles, and the movie knows it is wading through a sea of genre cliches. More than that, its love of its central duo remains.
This might be Fogel's first foray into big, bouncy action, but it's telling that her only other film — 2014's Life Partners — spun a story of lifelong besties who find their relationship being tested. While espionage wasn't part of that flick, there's plenty that's universal about women grappling with life's challenges with a pal by their side. Here, co-writing the script with David Iserson (United States of Tara), Fogel never questions Audrey and Morgan's camaraderie. Rather, The Spy Who Dumped Me feeds off of the characters' connection, using it as a constant source of affection, affirmation and amusement throughout all of the chaos. There are the foreseeable high points and a few low points, and most of the movie falls firmly in the middle, but it always feels fitting: that's friendship, after all.