“SKumm’s Thoughts”THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME (2018, R, 117 minutes, IMAGINE ENTERTAINMENT/LIONSGATE)
Every year seems to find a new comedic It-Girl. Melissa McCarthy (THE HEAT) and Amy Schumer (TRAINWRECK) each had standout moments which seemed to propel them into the spotlight, and seemed to redefine what it meant for a female in the genre of comedic film.
So hats off to Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”) for her performance in SPY. She uses up so much energy onscreen that everyone else looks two steps behind. The only person capable of keeping up with her (I really hate to use the word “zany” here…) ZANY character is her best friend (Mila Kunis), and only then because every Costello needs an Abbott.
SPY centers around the friendship between Audry and Morgan (Kunis and McKinnon), and the extremes they will go to in order to protect each other when they are thrust into the world of international espionage via Audry’s shady ex-boyfriend. Seems he was secretly a CIA operative, and he may have stolen something that the government(s) wants back. This sends Audry and Morgan overseas and on an adventure usually handled by the dudes. And honestly, that isn’t where this movie gets its extra zing from (yes, apparently I’m going with adjectives which begin with the letter Z now).
What worked so well in previous female-led comedies (THE HEAT, BRIDESMAIDS, etc.) isn’t what drives the story here. Thrusting females into what are traditionally roles for men can open up many different comedic opportunities, but here it is handled differently. Writers David Iserson and Susanna Fogel (who also directs) seem to know that their greatest strength lies in the chemistry between Ms.’s Kunis and McKinnon, and, almost entirely to her credit, the prowess of Ms. McKinnon. She is what lifts this film up, what provides roughly 95% of the film’s laughs, and what, ultimately, makes this an enjoyable affair. You want to keep watching to see exactly what this woman will say next, not to mention what she will be wearing. Her jokes are not just set ups and punchlines; she gets reactions with her facial expressions just as much as she does with her (I warned you) zingers.
The always enjoyable Ms. Kunis turns in the perfect Abbott-esque performance. She plays the straight guy (although there’s a term which needs redefining now, doesn’t it?) role perfectly, casting a sardonic eye upon Morgan and her antics. The laughs she elicits are few and far, far between, but what the viewer is witnessing is two very different comedic styles playing well against the other. It’s just that one is much louder and screaming for your attention more so than its subtle counterpart.
Of course, the film can become mired in the trappings of the genre it is lambasting; what would a contemporary espionage film be without international agencies working against each other, double crosses, technological world threat, and sadistic baddies. The story thrives on skewering many of those troupes, but to convey at least a somewhat engaging storyline, small doses of the familiar—or the typical—need be included. Certain formulas have to be adhered to a point, lest your audience be subjected to something akin to a long comedy sketch.
But with the driving force of McKinnon, I can’t help but wonder what her character could have done if left with no restraints at all. Ms. Kunis is great in her own capacity, but the sheer physical force of her counterpart is something entirely different to behold. And this film is a lovely start to Ms. McKinnon’s time of being the It-girl.
-- T.S. Kummelman