The spy movie spoof is a genre as persistent as the spy movie itself – as long as we’ve had James Bond and Ethan Hunt, we’ve had Austin Powers and Johnny English. Women are leading these blockbuster comedies with increasing regularity: the female-fronted spy spoof of this summer is The Spy Who Dumped Me, starring Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon as best friends who carry out one last job for Kunis’s spy ex after he is shot dead in front of them. The premise is an old one: comedies from My Favorite Blonde (1942) to The Spy (2015) share the plot of a character inheriting a secret mission from their romantic interest.
As a comedy, The Spy Who Dumped Me is disappointing: jokes are fired at a thousand rounds a minute, but often fail to reach their target. This isn’t the fault of the cast – Kunis grounds the film with panic-driven resourcefulness, while McKinnon brings genuine unpredictability to a hackneyed film trope, the eccentric but devoted best friend. The blame lies with a complacent script that sees “women trying to be spies” as inherently funny to start with. We’re expected to laugh as Kunis and McKinnon hug each other mid-car chase, or at lines such as, “Women can be terrorists, too: we can do anything we put our minds to.”
Where comedy fails to deliver, high-octane stunts excel. Friendly Uber drivers have their brains blown out mid-conversation, doe-eyed teenage assassins are skewered with spectacular gore, faces are burned off by scalding cheese fondue. Fans of action blockbusters might pass up what seems a light-hearted comedy – but they’d miss out. This film’s action sequences are every inch as bloody and bonkers as those of their male-fronted counterparts.
This article appears in the 29 Aug 2018 issue of the New Statesman, How politics turned toxic