Girls Just Wanna Have Guns
'Do you have any idea what this film is about?' I asked Olinka as we settled into our places in a slightly rowdy city-centre theatre (having turfed out the kids who had chosen to ignore the allocated seating system and pinch our spots).
(One of the many things I like about Olinka is that she will happily go and watch just about anything without the slightest demur, which she claims is because she simply enjoys going to the cinema with me. Hence her desire for one more trip before I disappeared for a while.)
'Well, it's a sort of comedy thriller.'
I was gratified to see her face light up. 'Well, that's good, because everything we go to see together -'
'- you either approach or come away from in the mistaken belief that it's a comedy thriller, yes, I know. So I thought it would be appropriate.'
The film in question was Susanna Fogel's The Spy Who Dumped Me, which - as the title suggests - ventures into fairly well-travelled territory as, well, not quite a spy spoof, but an espionage movie with some funny bits in it. This is one of those mid-budget genre movies for which expectations were originally quite modest, but due to test screenings which apparent got 'phenomenal' reactions from the audience, it has been moved up to a more auspicious slot.
Mila Kunis plays Audrey, an ordinary shop assistant from Los Angeles with a slightly turbulent love life, having just been chucked by her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux - if, like me, you're one of the people who has trouble keeping track of these things, this is not the prime minister of Canada, but the dude who wrote Iron Man 2). Luckily, perhaps, Mila's slightly unhinged best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon) is around to cheer her up.
But then, as the title might have led you to expect, Drew crashes back into Audrey's life, revealing that he is in fact a CIA agent being pursued by some Bad People, and that he has hidden a top-secret spy McGuffin in the stuff he left at Audrey's apartment! It turns out that it is Audrey's civic duty to go to Europe and deliver the McGuffin to the Right People, or at least stop the Bad People from getting their hands on it. Morgan ends up going along as well, because it's important to have your friends around you at moments like these...
Well, from that synopsis, you would have to say that it doesn't sound tremendously like the premise for a hilarious comedy experience. And there is a sense in which this is true, for this is one of those films which tries its hardest to hop genres. In a way it very much reminded me of the Melinda McCarthy-Jason Statham vehicle Spy, in that the spy movie bits are played very nearly straight, with some quite graphic violence, while the funny bits could have wandered in from any commercial American comedy of recent years (which is to say that they are profane, possibly to the point of actual obscenity, and fixated on bodily fluids and so forth).
The main thing I took away from this was an increased realisation of just how formulaic American genre movies have become: with The Spy Who Dumped Me, it's like a comedy and a thriller have been deconstructed and an entirely new film has been assembled from the key elements of both. Which is another way of saying, I suppose, that this is a film with some tonal problems, as is often the case with this sort of thing - there's something very odd about going from a moment where the main characters are beaten and tortured into a wacky comedy bit within the same scene. Charade this is not.
On the other hand, I suppose the whole confection works as well as it does because the espionage genre (or the more escapist end of it, anyway) has become such an absurd proposition anyway. There's a plot line in this film about the girls being hunted by a model-like eastern European gymnast turned gun-toting assassin, and while this is so outrageously silly it sounds like something out of a spoof, it's also exactly the kind of plot element that turns up in Luc Besson movies or films like Atomic Blonde. I know I complain about the Bond franchise being stuck in ultra-glum mode at the moment, but I suppose there's a sense in which they're well out of the glossy, silly end of the genre. You could argue that, in their own clumsy way, films like Spy and The Spy Who Dumped Me are trying to fill the gap left by Bond in the way they combine action and humour in a wholly preposterous context.
As an actual thriller, The Spy Who Dumped Me is forgettable stuff, with a plot that barely hangs together: it's also so stuffed with cliches that it must be intentional. As a comedy, however, it is rather more effective. It's hard to shake the sense that Mila Kunis owes a significant element of her career to the fact she is, well, easy on the eye sockets, but she's also quite an effective performer in this kind of light comedy. It is just unfortunate for her, then, that she has wound up sharing this film with Kate McKinnon, who is a ferociously talented comic performer.
The wacky best friend is a stock figure in this kind of film; for example, see Chelsea Handler in the 2012 film This Means War (which is almost like a weird mirror image of The Spy Who Dumped Me in some ways). Handler was sub-par in what was a bad film by pretty much any metric. Kate McKinnon is not sub-par in this film: in fact, she is so good that it almost unbalances the whole thing, as she is the person you are always wanting to see more of. She has an ability to steal scenes which almost defies belief, in addition to being able to deliver a killer one-liner and also do bizarre physical comedy. She was the funniest thing (possibly the only really funny thing) in the All-Female Ghostbusters remake; she is the funniest thing here, too. If she can find herself the right vehicle to star in in her own right, global stardom surely beckons.
Writing about This Means War, I said that it felt like a rom-com aimed at jocks, which might explain why it was such a lousy film. The very least that you can say about The Spy Who Dumped Me is that it feels like an action comedy genuinely made for a female audience. Naturally, this puts me out of the target audience in a fairly definitive way, but I still had a good time watching it. The supposed plot is negligible, but there's McKinnon doing her thing, and there are also lots of very good jokes, many of them about the culture clash between the US and Europe. There's also a typically adroit cameo from Gillian Anderson, whom it is always nice to see.
In the end we rather enjoyed this bona fide comedy thriller; we weren't hooting and gasping and shrieking like many other members of the audience at our screening, but we had fun. It's not what you could honestly call a great film, by any measure, nor does it really break new ground. But in terms of the odd little intersection of genres where it finds itself, it is an entertaining and quite likeable movie.