Saturday, August 4, 2018

International BFFs of Mystery: THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME

At first glance, writer-director Susanna Fogel's new film, The Spy Who Dumped Me, couldn't be more different from her debut, 2014's comic relationship drama Life Partners. The latter is small-scale, quiet, intimate, with humor bubbling naturally. The former is, from minute one, flying headfirst into a bloody action comedy routine. And yet, when you get right down to it, the films are basically the same, both following a pair of best girl friends whose buddy dynamics are turned topsy-turvy by a man. They also both rest on the crackling, easy, lived-in chemistry between their leads. That's a neat trick, turning the same character rapport into two very different registers and wringing nice laughs out of each divergent premise. I quite like them. But where Partners' stakes were simply the fate of Leighton Meester and Gillian Jacobs' characters' friendship, Dumped has to do with something something the fate of millions. Less an action spoof, more a straight-ahead high-impact action film with lots of goof-around details in the margins, it draws upon familiar ideas -- a little Spies Like Us here, a little Pink Panther there, a lot of Paul Feig's Spy all over -- but sends its leads so energetically into set pieces done up with fast-paced staging and robust stunt work that you hardly care it's treading familiar ground. It's too fast and funny to stop and let any nagging doubts in. It's slick and enjoyable that way.

It stars Mila Kunis as a woman freshly dumped by her seemingly dopey boyfriend (Justin Theroux) who, as it turns out, is a spy. She's targeted for elimination by all sorts of nasty people simply because her ex left a MacGuffin in her apartment pre-breakup. Because her best friend (Kate McKinnon) is her roommate, she's caught up in this mess, too. So it's off to Europe where they hope to sort this whole misunderstanding out, but everywhere they go gunfire, car chases, martial arts, and competing spy factions follow. The fish-out-of-water elements are just fine, and the grisly action is hectic, clearly choreographed, and edited for maximum comprehensible impact. But what really puts the movie over is the bantering between Kunis and McKinnon, who have distinct yet compatible styles of comedy. Kunis maintains a tight control over her character, containing her fear and disbelief in discrete moments between her determination to live up to the challenges they face. McKinnon, on the other hand, is an inflatable tube man of manic energy, flailing and shouting and seeming eager to participate in whatever shenanigans will keep them alive. They're both coping with fear and confusion, tense and snappy, but still totally having each other's back no matter what. It's refreshing to see there are no false conflicts between them as they're desperate to stick together and survive. The movie finds its humor broadly in splashes of gore bordering on slapstick, silly characterizations (a skeletal gymnast turned fashion model moonlighting as an assassin is a fine goof on thriller tropes) and yelling. But it also goes subtle, mining the little details between the characters (McKinnon's has acting aspirations that slip out in funny ways) and their place in the geopolitical situation. At one stop the ladies pull guns on an innocent European tourist who sizes them up calmly before dryly asking, "Americans?" As the misadventure hurtles along, the two of them start to think they might like being spies. Why not? In the movie's use of international intrigue, danger and violence are mostly free of consequence, spiked with laughs, and all in service of getting closer to your best friend. 

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