“The Spy Who Dumped Me,” directed by Susanna Fogel, is only the sixth female-directed film (out of 83) to open in Sonoma in 2018. The aesthetic and script choices made by Fogel — who also co-wrote — are a fascinating contrast to Christopher McQuarrie’s “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” which was released in July.
Rather than the long-term bromances at the heart of the “M:I” series, “The Spy Who Dumped Me” focuses on the bond between Audrey (Mila Kunis), a grocery store cashier, and Morgan (Kate McKinnon), an actress trying to make it in Hollywood (at least into insurance commercials).
As the title indicates, Audrey has just been dumped by Drew (Justin Theroux). It turns out that his improbable job — producing an NPR podcast about jazz and economics — is a cover for his life as an Ethan Hunt-esque spy, whose work for the CIA includes some impossible missions.
After revealing his true identity, Drew provides one of the most believable moments in a fairly outrageous film when he gives his ex his most prized possession: a 2nd place fantasy football trophy. As bullets whizz by his head, he sends Audrey and Morgan to Vienna to pass the precious prize along to his contact there. They hop a plane and find themselves in the middle of a jackpot.
As a person who can hook up with a guy because she’s “using this as an opportunity to teach him about feminism,” McKinnon easily assumes the air of an international woman of mystery. Audrey’s mastery of arcade game firearms also translates well when she starts firing real bullets. The duo even produce a car chase on par with the one in “Fallout” — with the added benefit that it revels in the empowerment of women rather than the burnishing of Tom Cruise’s ego.
In the messy aftermath of Vienna, the leads meet MI6 agents Sebastian (Sam Heughan) and Duffer (Hasan Minhaj), who immediately offer to “protect” the women by taking over their operation. These pushy dudes are constant disappointments to their boss Wendy (Gillian Anderson), whose skintight attire causes Morgan to refer to her as “The Beyoncé of the government.”
Sebastian and Duffer at least give some cover as our aspiring spies are stalked by the dilated pupils of the model/gymnast/cold-blooded assassin Nadedja (Ivanna Sakhno). Instructed to snipe “two dumb American women,” she sees several easy marks, but Audrey and Morgan aren’t among them.
The high point in the film is a scene after our heroines narrowly avoid death and congratulate each other, agreeing not to minimize their accomplishments. It feels almost shocking because such a sequence between women is so little seen in an action film, or in any film.
“The Spy Who Dumped Me” is oddly violent — there are point-blank gun shots, severed digits, even a man drowned in a fondue pot. The bullets and garrotes are one thing, but perhaps more frightening is the barrage of mansplaining, gaslighting and general underestimation from the dudes.
The film is carried along by the strong lead acting, especially from McKinnon, who bursts out with several funny yet inclusive interjections like, “Women can be terrorists too!” Before the climax, the Audrey and Morgan dye their hair from blonde to brunette and vice versa — it’s a symbol of how they have taken the best traits from each other. Morgan claims, “I hope I look like Chris Kirkpatrick from NSYNC,” but she really wants to resemble her friend.
“The Spy Who Dumped Me” is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated R. Running time 1:57. Visit www.cinemawest.com.