Let’s talk about Morgan’s parents in “The Spy Who Dumped Me.”
They’re minor supporting characters, but I found myself thinking about them as I left the theater after screening this R-rated, cheerfully violent, hit-and-miss action laffer with a lot more “miss” than “hit” in its comedic arsenal.
The amazing Kate McKinnon plays Morgan, best friend to Mila Kunis’ Audrey. More about them in a moment.
Paul Reiser and Jane Curtin play Morgan’s parents. When Morgan gets mixed up in international intrigue yielding an ever-increasing body count, dad keeps pedaling away on his exercise bicycle while casually offering advice, while Mom beams over Morgan’s appearance in the local newspaper.
Are they idiots? Zombies? Lazily drawn creations more broadly sketched than characters on “SNL” sketches?
Oh, and by the way, their last name is Freeman. That’s right; they named their daughter Morgan, just so the movie could have a “Morgan Freeman” joke to toss into the mix.
The waste of Curtin and Reiser in these small roles is a misdemeanor compared to the criminally underwhelming parts written for Kunis and McKinnon.
Kunis has been impressing with her cinematic comedic chops since “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and McKinnon is a Hall of Fame level “Not Ready for Prime Time Player” who has shown flashes of big-screen brilliance. This seemed like an inspired pairing — a golden opportunity for a foul-mouthed, bone-cracking action comedy along the lines of Paul Feig’s Melissa McCarthy-starring “Spy.”
Kudos to director and co-writer Susanna Fogel for the attempt to mix character-driven, buddy-movie comedy with elaborate, impressively shot action sequences, but “The Spy Who Dumped Me” has nearly as many DOA jokes as dead bodies, and that ain’t good.
Kunis’ Audrey is smart and kind, but as she hits her 30s, still a little lost. She tried law school. She tried art school. Didn’t finish either. These days she’s working in Los Angeles at a … grocery store? Yes, it’s a grocery store. At first I thought it was a themed restaurant, given the splashy blouse and the name tag, but it’s a medium-trendy grocery store.
McKinnon’s Morgan is the obligatory Wacky Best Friend, who hogs the microphone when it’s time to sing “Happy Birthday” to Audrey; offers non-stop, snarky commentary about just about everything happening AS it’s happening, and is so involved with Audrey’s life it borders on light stalking.
“Has anyone ever told you you’re a bit much?” one character says to Morgan, and though we’re supposed to feel bad for Morgan, we’re thinking, “No bleep, she’s a bit much.”
Justin Theroux is Drew, who dumps Audrey via text message on the eve of their one-year anniversary. Audrey was under the impression Drew was a nerd who had a podcast on NPR, but it turns out he’s a hardcore CIA operative who ended the relationship because he was worried about Audrey’s safety.
MORE FROM RICHARD ROEPER
That’s right. Drew is “The Spy Who Dumped Me.” Well, not me. Audrey.
Problem is, by the time Drew ends it with Audrey, various government operatives and agents and double agents and assassins are after Audrey (and by association, Morgan) because they think she might know something about something.
Drew hands Audrey a Plot Device, I mean, a McGuffin, I mean, a cheap-looking Fantasy Football trophy and tells her to take it to a certain café in Vienna and to hand it off to someone named Verne.
Off we go on our international comedy of errors, which eventually involve Drew’s kindly parents; Morgan going undercover as a trapeze artist at a Cirque du Soleil performance; a tired gag about using a dead guy’s thumbprint to access his iPhone; an MI6 agent (Sam Heughan) who looks like a recently unearthed fourth Hemsworth brother; a Russian gymnast (Ivanna Sakhno) turned runway model turned psychopathic assassin, and oh yes, Gillian Anderson as the MI6 agent’s cool and calculating supervisor.
The action sequences are hardcore — which is a bit jarring when juxtaposed with all the quipping. (Again: We know “The Spy Who Dumped Me” isn’t going for anything approaching realism, but it’s a little weird when Audrey and Morgan are barely traumatized by getting tortured, dodging bullets and ending more than few lives.)
McKinnon has so much energy and creativity she nearly jumps out of the frame. It’s an uneven performance with mixed results — but we’re left hoping she’ll be matched up with a better film role sometime soon, one that makes full use of her unique talents. Kunis does fine work, but there’s so much noise and nonsense (and so many cuts to stunt doubles), the movie never gives the two the full opportunity to establish chemistry.
That’s the real casualty of this corpse-strewn comedy.
‘The Spy Who Dumped Me’
Lionsgate presents a film directed by Susanna Fogel and written by Fogel and David Iserson. Rated R (for violence, language throughout, some crude sexual material and graphic nudity). Running time: 113 minutes. Opens Thursday at local theaters.