The Screening Room | Hammy co-star, bad script sink 'Spy Who Dumped Me'

The Screening Room | Hammy co-star, bad script sink 'Spy Who Dumped Me'

Some performers have a tendency to want to dominate whatever production they're in, and a good director knows that these actors need to be kept in check lest the spotlight constantly fall on them at the expense of the rest of the cast and the story.

Based on her misguided comedy "The Spy Who Dumped Me," this is a lesson Susanna Fogel has yet to learn. Lacking originality or wit, the ineptitude of this production is compounded by the presence of "Saturday Night Live" star Kate McKinnon, who is allowed to run amok and rend the scenery at every turn. While some may like the comedienne's style, the director's willingness to allow her shameless mugging throughout comes off as a desperate attempt to save a lackluster script.

Contending with yet another birthday alone, Audrey (Mila Kunis) is also dealing with the fact that her boyfriend, Drew (Justin Theroux), has just broken up with her, via text no less. Turns out, he has a rather good reason for doing so, as he's a secret agent on the run who has gotten mixed up in some spy shenanigans and is forced to cut ties with everyone he knows.

Audrey and her roommate, Morgan (McKinnon), are unaware of his profession and just chalk Drew up as another jerk. That is until the CIA, in the form of agents Sebastian (Sam Heughan) and Duffer (Hasan Minhaj), comes calling, looking for information on Drew, followed by their apartment being destroyed by an armed force looking for a missing flash drive.

It doesn't take long before our heroines are trying to track down the drive and Drew themselves, jetting to Europe in a heartbeat due to some clues that have fallen into their laps. One noisy gunfight leads to a going-nowhere-fast car chase only to segue to another gunfight and then ... you get the picture.

All the beats from a standard action film are present, none of them done with any sense of style, while the plot follows a lockstep pattern as well, nary a surprise in sight.

As you would expect, whenever Audrey and Morgan wind up in a tense situation, Kunis plays it straight and McKinnon is allowed to turn her shtick up to 11, talking a mile a minute, casting manic, wild-eyed looks about and delivering "clever" asides with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. She is "Distraction" personified, and as a result, whenever she's on screen, all the viewer can do is look at her, pulling us out of the story time and time again.

With the quality of the writing on hand, this isn't hard to do, as the script is composed of well-worn narrative tricks and not a single funny line. I didn't laugh once.

However, giving credit where it's due, Heughan ("Outlander") accords himself well, commanding the screen whenever he appears and showing such a flair for action scenes that I would be eager to see him in a serious thriller. However, his fine work can't outweigh the ineptitude on display in this staggering embarrassment of a film.

'The Spy Who Dumped Me' (★ 1/2 out of four)

Cast: Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Sam Heughan, Hasan Minhaj, Mirjam Novak, Fred Malamud, Kev Adams, Paul Reiser and Jane Curtin.

Directed by Susanna Fogel; produced by Brian Grazer and Erica Huggins; screenplay by David Iserson and Fogel.

A Lionsgate Films release. 116 minutes. Rated R (violence, language, crude sexual material and graphic nudity). At AMC Champaign 13, AMC Danville Village Mall 6 and Savoy IMAX 16.

Also new in theaters

Nature vs. nurture at heart of haunting "Three Identical Strangers." (★★★ 1 / 2 out of four). It was Mark Twain who pointed out that truth is stranger than fiction, and were he alive today, he would point to Tim Wardle's compelling documentary as proof.

What begins as an examination of an incredible coincidence turns into a treatise on the question of whether nature or nurture is more significant in the formation of a person's personality. While this would be fascinating in and of itself, the story takes a turn so dark that it's hard to comprehend and will likely leave viewers furious and aghast.

In 1980, the country was captivated by a news story that got stranger and stranger as it played out. Upon arriving at community college in upstate New York, 19-year-old Bobby Shafran was greeted warmly by strangers as he walked across campus. Turns out he was being mistaken for Eddy Galland, a former student from the previous year whom he was quickly put in contact with. Physically identical, these two began asking questions of each other and found out they had both been adopted from the same orphanage as babies.

The story took an even stranger turn when a young man named David Kellman thought he was looking into a mirror when he saw an article about Shafran and Galland and was ultimately put in contact with them. It soon became apparent that the three were in fact triplets who had been separated at birth and given to separate families, none of whom were told that the child they were adopting had siblings. Needless to say, their story was a sensation, and the trio ended up going on the talk-show circuit, becoming the subject of numerous magazine articles and even getting a cameo in the Madonna feature "Desperately Seeking Susan."

Wardle does a fine job of laying out three parallel storylines as he chronicles how the brothers dealt with the media spotlight while examining how their respective sets of parents returned to Louise Wise Services, where the boys were adopted, and began asking questions concerning their past and why they were separated.

And this is when the film takes a turn that could not be predicted. To say any more would ruin the many surprises the story contains, and Wardle's sense of pace becomes the key to the movie working. Needless to say, the revelations are not only surprising but also ultimately infuriating and haunting. Ultimately, once the fates of the three brothers are revealed, an answer to the question of nature vs. nurture is suggested.

"Three Identical Strangers" powerfully reiterates a lesson we fail to heed again and again — that human intervention in the natural order of things always leads to disaster, with this incident resulting in the most personal of tragedies.

For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Koplinski on Twitter (@ckoplinski). He can be reached via email at chuckkoplinski@gmail.com.

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