In an odd way, it makes sense that in the same month that another Mission: Impossible movie debut, there would also be a spy movie spoof. And in an even odder way, the two sort of complement each other. Fallout had a bit of humor, a lot of action, almost no sexuality, and a by-the-numbers plot. The Spy Who Dumped Me – starring Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon – sort of fills in the gaps. It has a lot of great comedy, even more graphic action than Tom Cruise’s latest outing, a by-the-numbers plot that subverts and makes use of action movie tropes, and leans into the sexuality, both in the form of noting traditional genre gender roles, and in just acknowledging that adults have needs.
Kunis takes the designated lead role of Audrey, who has just been dumped via text by her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux, possibly providing meta commentary on his separation from Jennifer Aniston, but who the fuck cares?). At her birthday party, her best friend, Morgan Freeman (Kate McKinnon, later admitting that the name alone gets her discounts and special treatment everywhere she goes), convinces her to burn Drew’s belongings in retaliation, all while being hilariously hit on by a Ukranian who barely speaks English.
Meanwhile, Drew is in Europe being chased by assassins. Seeing Audrey’s threatening text to set his shit aflame, he makes a beat back to California to stop her. The next day, Audrey is accosted by two CIA agents named Sebastian and Duffer (Sam Heughan from Outlander and The Daily Show’s Hassan Minhaj, respectively), who inform her that Drew is an undercover agent who may have gone rogue. Drew makes it back to Audrey’s apartment only to be killed by the “uncut” Ukranian that Morgan brought home. As he dies, he tells Audrey that his fantasy football trophy (noted among the things to be burned) was not just some trinket, but that it contained vital information in his operation. He uses his last breaths to beg her to find his contact in Europe and deliver it.
Now, as far as plot is concerned, this is a pretty weak inciting incident. Drew was in Europe without his info, yet he was supposed to meet his contact in less than a day. So why was his “trophy” back in the States to begin with? Shouldn’t it have been on him the whole time, or at least safely secured closer than 5,000 miles away? This is where Mission: Impossible has the better end of the deal. Exposition at the very beginning sets up the plot, no need to frame stuff in an odd or pedantic way. Here, the incitement is closer to Melissa McCartney’s Spy than anything else. But at least here, Kunis and McKinnon don’t stumble ass backwards into adventure, and thankfully, the film is not a two-hour fat joke.
Where this film succeeds better than M:I6 is that once the adventure begins, the two leads are all in on the process. The violence is more graphic than the genuine action article, with an Austrian Uber driver getting his brain splattered on the windshield during a chase just to start the carnage. The girls have no idea who they can trust, and they’re being waylaid on all sides by terrorists, American agents, and assassins, all looking for the bit of intel that Drew had Audrey abscond with.
Making up for the shoddy beginnings to the plot, the film cleverly supplements the story via flashback to the night where Audrey and Drew first met. We not only see their courtship, but additional information clues us in to where the next beats in the story will take us. Is it a tad trite? Sure, but so are waves of chasing motorcycles appearing out of nowhere to continue a pursuit long after our heroes have escaped, something that happens in both Fallout and this movie. As long as it works, and is entertaining, I can’t bash it too much.
Most important, however, is the chemistry between Kunis and McKinnon. It’s up to Mila to be the straight woman to Kate’s over-the-top antics (not a commentary on Kate McKinnon’s sexuality, though I will go on record as saying she’s the sexiest lesbian I’ve ever seen), but really, the pair play off each other so well that the dire nature of their situation is properly undercut whenever anything gets too heavy. Among the highlights are the two of them mugging a pair of Australian backpackers in order to get their passports and a change of clothes, Morgan basically thrusting herself into the CIA via Sebastian and Duffer’s boss Wendy, played by Gillian Anderson sporting a British accent for no reason (which can be said for Sebastian as well), and the increasingly hilarious references to where the intel has been hidden once the ladies discover it.
Also, as I said earlier, Mission: Impossible made the refreshing decision to eschew sexuality almost entirely in Fallout, mostly because the idea of a suave, debonair secret agent has been done to death. Here, however, there is at least proper acknowledgment of it, because for once we have normal, everyday women taking center stage. This isn’t like Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde, or any other film of that ilk, where a trained agent either uses or suppresses her sexual desires depending on mission needs. These are two randos who happen to be women trying to figure stuff out as they go along, and it’s normal to just have girl talk and dress sexy but not conspicuous. What I’m saying is there’s a nice balance here, which works just as well as when M:I6 made the creative decision to avoid it entirely.
And again, I’m not just referring to sexuality in the carnal context. One of the central themes of the film is about Audrey coming into her own and discovering that she’s more than she gives herself credit for. Part of that very specific bit of gender identity even plays into one of the major plot devices. One of the big reveals comes down to Audrey realizing that she was used because she was thought to be a meek woman who would just go along with whatever was asked of her, and it’s empowering for her to not just assert that she’s changed, but for the film to show us that she has, so that she can pose the question rhetorically, knowing the answer just as well as we do.
The story is fairly predictable, including every single double-cross, but the level of humor and the risk of showing much more graphic violence than other legit action films, makes this film eminently watchable and enjoyable. Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon make a wonderful team, and the supporting cast certainly has its moments. Is this as good as Mission: Impossible? Not really, but it’s almost an apples-to-oranges comparison. This is more of a buddy movie than an action thriller, but the line is walked with almost surgical precision, and as such, we in the audience are richer for the experience.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Is Kate McKinnon the funniest woman alive? Has Mila Kunis ever been hotter than she was in that dress? Let me know!