Gillian Anderson

The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018, Susanna Fogel)

The Spy Who Dumped Me has, rather unfortunately, a punny title. It’s an accurate title—the film’s about spy Justin Theroux dumping his civilian and not aware he’s a spy girlfriend Mila Kunis—but it doesn’t capture the mood of the film. No doubt, it’s a hard one to title—because even though it starts with Kunis going to Europe to help Theroux on a mission (after a very well-executed gun fight), it becomes more about Kunis and best friend Kate McKinnon as they find their respective knacks in life as spies. Or at least, movie spies, who have to worry about gun fights in public places, evil trapeze artists, and “Edward Snowden” cameos. Spy purposefully goes all over the place (and all over Europe), with the core mystery being engaging enough but never the point. Spy’s all about its performances, not the MacGuffins.

Which makes Sam Heughan’s smooth British spy guy stand out as a fail. He’s fine. He’s even charming at times, but he’s… nothing special. When Kunis has her pick of spies, Theroux or Heughan, she goes Theroux—who’s got his issues too—but at last he’s got some character. Heughan looks like a British spy caricature, acts like a British spy caricature. He’s no fun. Theroux’s not really fun either, but he doesn’t have to be fun. But Heughan? He’s the straight man to partner Hasan Minhaj, whose thing is just being a boring straightedge and he’s so fun at it. Or their boss, Gillian Anderson, who plays a British spy supervisor caricature and makes it seem like a real character. Heughan’s fine, but he’s a bummer. Theroux’s… a bummer. At least one of them needs to be better.

Nicely, everything else is great so the two supporting dudes being a little lackluster doesn’t matter. And Heughan’s good with the fight stuff; he gets sympathy for being such a surprisingly solid action star. Spy gives Kunis and McKinnon a lot, keeping an undercurrent of humor. Heughan doesn’t really have the humor. Sometimes he’s got Kunis and McKinnon giving audio commentary, which brings some humor, but director Fogel handles it differently. Probably contributes to keeping Kunis and McKinnon in danger. They’re not because it’s still a fish out of water buddy comedy and it can’t kill either buddy but the film’s got to put them in danger for about an hour straight before a resolution. Spy isn’t short—it’s real close to two hours—and it’s really well-paced and keeping tension in an action comedy isn’t easy. Luckily there’s a lot of violence. Spy goes all in on the action violence; lots of great action set pieces; they’re what make the movie work in the first act. It demands attention.

Kunis is a good lead, but McKinnon walks away with it. She’s really funny. Even when the scene isn’t really funny, McKinnon’s really funny. And her third act stuff is impossible and she makes it happen. Fogel’s careful not to showcase McKinnon too much—without not showcasing her either—and giving Kunis her time but… it’s McKinnon’s show. She’s part of all the best material. Kunis gets most of it, but third act is all McKinnon’s. Also Kunis and McKinnon are great together, which makes everything feel a lot more even throughout. It’s just… Kunis gets a romance subplot and McKinnon gets to be hilarious. Shame Kunis doesn’t have better dudes in the triangle. But Heughan’s fine.

He’s fine.

Great cameos from Jane Curtin, Paul Reiser, and Fred Melamed. Ivanna Sakhno’s awesome as the Bond villain assassin out to get Kunis and, especially, McKinnon.

The Spy Who Dumped Me is really good at being really funny and good enough when it’s not being really funny.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Susanna Fogel; written by Fogel and David Iserson; director of photography, Barry Peterson; edited by Jonathan Schwartz; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, Marc Homes; costume designer, Alex Bovaird; produced by Brian Grazer and Erica Huggins; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Mila Kunis (Audrey), Kate McKinnon (Morgan), Sam Heughan (Sebastian), Hasan Minhaj (Duffer), Justin Theroux (Drew), Ivanna Sakhno (Nadedja), Jane Curtin (Carol), Paul Reiser (Arnie), Lolly Adefope (Tess), and Gillian Anderson (Wendy).


The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008, Chris Carter)

I can understand why Chris Carter and company made X-Files: I Want to Believe (though not the title), but I can’t understand why Fox produced it. The film was a significant bomb, even if it didn’t cost very much, and some critics dismissed it as an episode turned into a feature. It’s anything but… instead, it’s the most peculiar studio, potential franchise release, I’ve ever seen. I Want to Believe is an adult drama not about David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson returning to the FBI to look for monsters–instead, it’s about Anderson’s internal turmoil over trying an experimental, painful procedure on a young patient.

They do return to the FBI to look for (qualified) monsters… but it’s not very important. It’s not even as important as the complicated romance between the characters. Some of the complication comes from the script–Carter and co-writer Frank Spotnitz take most of the movie to reveal the basic ground situation between Duchovny and Anderson, probably because it works so well and they thought they were going to be rewarding returning fans.

I Want to Believe is far more a postscript–and I make this observation generally, discussing the idea of making a sequel after a reasonable absence (I didn’t watch the last few seasons of the show, only hearing about plot points from friends)–than an attempt at starting a film series. It’s very different and it’s rather wonderful in how delicately it treats Duchovny and Anderson. Carter’s never directed a feature before (he uses Panavision to great effect); he treats Anderson with a moving gentleness. When Duchovny’s on screen alone, it’s almost a jolt–like he shouldn’t be running the show.

As for the mystery, I’m guessing it occupies half of the film’s running time. It’s clearly unimportant–the final act, featuring the resolution to it, is much less important than the denouement. It does allow for a surprise cameo, which ends in another touching, odd manner.

There are some excellent action-like sequences in the film. There’s a great chase scene and Bill Roe’s cinematography gives the Panavision a lush, grandiose scale. Shots of people walking from cars in the snow have rarely looked so good.

The acting’s all good, with Anderson having the hardest job. Duchovny has it easier, while Billy Connolly sort of phones in his performance, sort of doesn’t. It’s the same performance he gives a lot, but given his character (a psychic, sex offender ex-priest), it comes off differently. Amanda Peet manages to make an impression in her smallish role–though most of the movie trailer moments are hers–while Xzibit does not.

I spent the entire film incredibly impressed with the score and it turns out it’s Mark Snow, who did the music for the series. For some reason, I figured it’d be someone more famous.

What’s particularly nice about the film is how little one has to know about the show to understand it. There are some references, but as long as the viewer has a working knowledge of the basic concept… it works. I think. And stay through the credits.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Carter; screenplay by Frank Spotnitz and Carter, based on the television series created by Carter; director of photography, Bill Roe; edited by Richard A. Harris; music by Mark Snow; production designer, Mark S. Freeborn; produced by Carter and Spotnitz; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring David Duchovny (Fox Mulder), Gillian Anderson (Dr. Dana Scully), Amanda Peet (ASAC Dakota Whitney), Billy Connolly (Father Joseph Crissman), Xzibit (Agent Mosley Drummy), Callum Keith Rennie (Dacyshyn) and Adam Godley (Father Ybarra).


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