The Spy Who Dumped Me gets smart in the end

Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis are besties who find themselves at the center of international intrigue in The Spy Who Dumped Me. LIONSGATE Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis are besties who find themselves at the center of international intrigue in The Spy Who Dumped Me. LIONSGATE

Don’t judge The Spy Who Dumped Me by its first 20 minutes, because if you bail on what seems like another forgettable high-concept frenemy gross-out fest, you’ll miss the best hard-R comedy of the year since Game Night. Fueled by the terrific chemistry between stars Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon and deftly directed by Susanna Fogel, The Spy Who Dumped Me eventually gets where it’s going, and you’ll be glad you stuck it out.

The film follows Audrey (Kunis) and Morgan (McKinnon) in the fallout of having been unwittingly entangled in an episode of international counterterrorism. A year after Audrey’s boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) breaks up with her via text message, she threatens to burn the things he left behind. This draws Drew out of hiding, and he reveals his secret career as a spy. He also mentions that in his box of belongings is a key piece of intelligence that must be delivered by Audrey and Morgan, sending them across Europe to learn this whole espionage thing as they go.

Frequently, adding the tag “comedy” to a genre means that the co-hyphenate is half-baked: A horror-comedy has a few zombies but is never all that scary; a comedy-drama has a semi-serious story but they crack jokes and hug at the end. So when the first shootout breaks out in The Spy Who Dumped Me, it comes as a jolt of electricity, bringing to life what starts as a directionless riff on breakup movies. The action is quick and exciting, and does not skimp on the idea that a lot of this work is killing—the movie pauses the first moment Audrey has to shoot someone, as it should. Morgan’s antics go from winding up McKinnon and letting her go to giving her a full emotional arc, examining the self-image of someone who is always dismissed as flighty and told she is “a lot.” The comedy is smart, the sendups of spy stories don’t come at the expense of intrigue, and the cast gels from a random assemblage of individual talents to a cohesive unit, leaving you guessing until the end.

It may seem like this review has dwelled on the movie’s opening, but it’s not just a matter of it being less funny or engaging than what follows. Twenty laugh-free minutes in what is supposed to be a comedy can feel like a lifetime. There are jokes at the start, but all of them land with a mighty thud, the sort that fills people with dread that it’s all going to be like this. After the two leads get to Europe is when the real laughs and genuinely exciting action start, and where the setup pays off. Is this a result of the expectation of nonstop insanity promised by the marketing? Maybe our expectations need to be reset. Director Fogel finds her rhythm before too long, so she should be allowed as much setup time as she requires. Either way, The Spy Who Dumped Me picks up just when you were expecting to give up on the whole thing.

The Spy Who Dumped Me

R, 117 minutes; Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema

Playing this week 

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056

Ant-man and The Wasp, BlacKkKlansman, Christopher Robin, Crazy Rich Asians, Eighth Grade, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Mission Impossible: Fallout

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213

Ant-man and The Wasp, Blindspotting, Christopher Robin, The Darkest Minds, Eighth Grade, The Equalizer 2, Hotel Transylvania 3, Incredibles 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

Violet Crown Cinema

200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000

BlacKkKlansman, Blindspotting, Christopher Robin, The Darkest Minds, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, Eighth Grade, The King, Leave No Trace, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Sorry to Bother You, Three Identical Strangers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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