Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis are unlikely spies in ‘Spy Who Dumped Me’

It’s one thing for America’s spies to lose the confidence of the president of the United States. It’s another thing for a secret agent to split with his girlfriend, who learns that her ex was a spy only when armed assassins storm into her house.

So begins “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” a secret agent spoof with Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon. Soon after Audrey (Kunis) learns from her boyfriend (Justin Theroux) that it’s over, she barely has time to burn his clothes before she and best friend Morgan (McKinnon) are off on a plane to Vienna, with only the clothes on their backs.

In Kunis’ case, that’s a Hawaiian shirt and khaki pants from her job as a cashier at a health food store. Morgan is in tow, wearing an odd outfit with suspenders. This isn’t James Bond couture.

“Our characters are normal people who’ve been dropped into the situation,” said McKinnon. “We’re not trained spies or anything. We didn’t have to look like we’ve been training all our lives. We just had to look like we didn’t know what we were doing.” That involved being chased though Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Amsterdam and Paris. If the film’s body count is high, so are the frequent-flier miles.

It’s an improbable international conspiracy without a dress code, Kunis said, “If that’s what happened, that’s what we would have been wearing. We didn’t have time to change.”

“In spy movies,” she said, “we are what happens in between the spy-ness. We’re spies who go to the bathroom.”

Which doesn’t keep either actress from professing espionage-envy. “Its fantastical and aspirational. Everyone wants to be a spy,” said Kunis, “because there are no rules, and the outcomes are always so extravagant. You watch it, and it gets to be badass. You watch things explode, and see gadgets that don’t really exist. Like in ‘Kingsman.’ I love the ‘Kingsman’ movies.”

McKinnon said, “These are people who never betray an ounce of fear or doubt. They’re dressed so well. You never see a schlubby spy.” Her research seemed to have skipped John LeCarre.

More Information

The Spy Who Dumped Me (R) opens in Bay Area theaters Friday, Aug. 3

Neither actress is old enough to remember the classic ‘60s spy slapstick of “Our Man Flint” with James Coburn or the Matt Helm series with Dean Martin, although Kunis recalls watching James Bond movies as a child with her father. (Father and daughter were born in the Soviet Union, the perennial enemy in those films.)

For McKinnon, who was cast first for the film (says Kunis), gags emerge naturally in this genre. “I think what’s fun about this is that the spy genre comes with such a codified set of expectations of what it is, and it’s so easy to create comedy out of that by subverting it with, in this instance, two regular people who are trying to stumble their way through it. It’s just ripe for comedy,” she said.

That became a good reason to retain what started as a working title, a spoof on “The Spy Who Loved Me,” the 1977 James Bond film with Roger Moore and Barbara Bach, said director and co-writer Susanna Fogel.

“The title was originally hatched just to be a splashy fun title which would get people to read the script. It felt like it was too much of a parody title for us at first. But then people got attached to it, and it became part of the DNA of the film,” she said.

With chases involving cars, motorcycles and helicopters, “The Spy Who Dumped Me” is a step up from Fogel’s previous films in logistics and budget.

Still the limited number of independent directors who have graduated to higher-budget action films — Doug Liman , Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, to name a few — seems like a boys’ club, at least so far. Fogel hopes her film changes that perception, especially among audiences.

“Just as much as I want women to see this representation of a great friendship, I also want men to find themselves re-evaluating what women were and weren’t capable of,” she said, “or I want men in that theater, even if their girlfriends took them to the theater, to say, ‘That action was good - I really liked that,’ or ‘I think that was really funny - it didn’t feel like a chick flick.’ It’s important to start breaking those boundaries down.”

David D’Arcy is a New York freelance writer.