As the second decade of the 21st century sputters to a close, two comedic concepts that just a few years ago were hailed as exciting and fresh—raunchy, R-rated, female-led comedies and violent, R-rated action comedies—are now commonplace. (Pineapple Express came out 10 years ago, and Bridesmaids seven years ago, if you can believe it.) The Spy Who Dumped Me blends elements of both, for an R-rated female buddy comedy with a solid emotional core—and car chases, shootouts, and gymnastics-themed torture grafted on top.
Mila Kunis stars as Audrey, a Los Angeles thirtysomething who’s still trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. In the meantime, she’s living with her best friend, Morgan (Kate McKinnon), and working at a thinly veiled Hollywood version of Trader Joe’s. Audrey is at work one afternoon when a customer asks her to walk him to his car; thinking he’s flirting with her, Audrey happily agrees, only to be forced into the back of a van and interrogated about her ex-boyfriend, Drew (Justin Theroux), by two government agents, MI6’s Sebastian (Sam Heughan) and the CIA’s Duffer (Hasan Minhaj). Extremely pissed after being dumped over text message, Audrey agrees to tell them everything she knows. Then, as they tend to do in these films, things escalate quickly. After a raid on their apartment that leaves multiple people dead, Audrey and Morgan take off for Europe to finish the mission started by poor, departed Drew, who seems like way less of an asshole now that he’s dead.
The challenge for this film, as it is for all R-rated action-comedies, is tone—specifically, balancing the comedy and action elements so the laughs don’t dissipate as the bodies pile up. Director Susanna Fogel handles this by downplaying the action; she’s comfortable staging complex stunt sequences, but the results are so slickly generic that they’re obviously designed for utility rather than maximum thrills. The film’s action also relies heavily on a sound mix loud enough to blow out the speakers at your local multiplex, which is good for a momentary jolt but gets tedious rather quickly. The comedic side of the equation, meanwhile, is livelier and more memorable, thanks to two factors: the emphasis on Audrey and Morgan’s friendship, and Kate McKinnon in one of her signature wild card roles.
The Spy Who Dumped Me is McKinnon’s best big-screen vehicle since 2016’s Ghostbusters, fueling her character’s flights of eccentricity with sharp, sometimes screamingly funny one-liners while reining her in enough to keep her human. (Her childhood friendship with Edward Snowden and her Broad City-esque commitment to lifting up her best friend’s self-esteem are two particularly rich sources of humor.) The bond between the friends—which is supportive and unbreakable, completely accepting and fiercely protective—gives this otherwise ludicrous film a realistic emotional core, and genuinely subverts expectations when it becomes clear that the spy of the title is ultimately a minor character in these women’s lives. Much of what’s around them is rote and uneven, but Kunis and McKinnon are a comedic duo worth hanging on to.