Synopsis – A hardened CIA operative finds himself at the mercy of a precocious 9-year-old girl, having been sent undercover to surveil her family.
My Take – It is an unwritten rule of cinema that all muscle bound actors at some point must star in a family comedy where they are unwillingly paired with children. Arnold Schwarzenegger did it famously with Kindergarten Cop (1990), Vin Diesel had The Pacifier (2005), Dwayne Johnson led The Game Plan (2007) and Tooth Fairy (2010), and most recently John Cena starred in the awful yet financially successful Playing with Fire (2019). And with his eyes clearly on Dwayne Johnson‘s impressive career trajectory, it was only a matter of time that Dave Bautista too found himself filling in for such kind of a role.
He admittedly is excellent as Drax the Destroyer in Marvel‘s Guardians of the Galaxy films, and has further expanded on his acting chops in Blade Runner 2049, and the very underrated Die Hard in a stadium film, Final Score, but Bautista, in my opinion, does not possess Johnson and Cena‘s screen charisma, which at times is enough to carry a film irrespective of its writing. However, he manages to do well when given the right material. Hence teaming up with director Peter Segal (Get Smart, 50 First Dates) to expand on his comedic chops, which felt highly underutilized in last year’s Stuber, seemed like the right play.
Unfortunately for him, this latest flick is nothing but a formulaic yet eccentric family action-comedy that is an enjoyable enough romp which certainly packs more laughs than I expected, but in the end is too tonally uneven to succeed as anything other than a passable popcorn flick. With its multiple release date shifts, and the ongoing pandemic, I certainly believe STXfilms has made the right call by releasing this on VOD, and not wait for it to fight it out in the cinemas (when they open).
The story follows JJ (Dave Bautista), an ex-military man who now operates as a somewhat sloppy CIA operative, as he continues to choose killing and blowing up everyone rather than gather information for the bigger picture like a true agent. Finding himself under fire yet again for his cowboy antics, Kim Trang (Ken Jeong), his boss, offers him a last chance to redeem by pairing him with Bobbi (Kristen Schaal), an enthusiastic but inexperienced tech expert to conduct a surveillance job in Chicago.
The assigned job has them keeping a watch on Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), a single mother and the widow of dead criminal, with the hope that her arms dealer brother in law, Marquez (Greg Bryk), will get in touch, to gather a piece of his latest dangerous plan.
Unfortunately, Kate’s nine-year-old daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman) quickly spots that their apartment has been bugged and threatens to blow their cover. But later agrees against it in exchange of forcing JJ to grant her one favor after another from accompanying her to school to taking her ice-skating and so on. Despite his reluctance to do so, JJ finds that he is no match for Sophie’s disarming charm, intelligence and aptitude for espionage.
While it seems a bit unbelievable that the CIA is discovered by a nine-year-old girl and she manages to outsmart them, but what holds the film together are the leads’ comic timing and a few belly-laughs amid an air of general amiability. It’s a silly but not unpromising premise which the film can’t resist complicating by having JJ and Kate become an item at the same time.
Actually, for a stretch in the middle, the film feels more like a rom com than anything else as JJ gets a makeover by the gay couple next door and begins to shed his emotionally repressed exterior. This aspect has come up so many times before that for people familiar with such films, this one can quickly become predictable.
Yet all this is laid out so bluntly it’s hard to take much offense, even if you might wonder what message director Segal and his writers Erich and Jon Hoeber could be trying to convey, but the charm of the film lies clearly on the bond between JJ and young Sophie.
However, it is very uneven though, with the action comedy book ending a family film in the middle and an occasional scene set abroad to indicate thriller with the Marquez subplot so generic it’s barely worth mentioning. For example, the aspect of the secret arms trade is somewhat canceled. The scenes that pass there seem a bit like separate scenes from a completely different film. These different aspects only come together at the end of the film, but otherwise seem to have little in common. The film‘s tonal imbalance may leave adults frustrated but the film’s mixture of clever tween who doesn’t fit in, broad comedy, cute dog and the odd huge explosion means it should work well for a younger age group.
As I mentioned earlier, Dave Bautista is a good performer and his delivery and warmth gives the rather thin material more solidity than it warrants. Young actress Chloe Coleman is excellent here and clearly the scene stealer. She’s witty and sarcastic but it never starts to grate as it so often can with this type of character. It is largely to do with totally sidestepping a snotty attitude and sympathetically fleshing out the character.
Parisa Fitz-Henley seamlessly fills the role of Sophie’s affable mum and ER nurse, who takes a shine to JJ. While Kristen Schaal and Ken Jeong have smaller roles that could have done with being expanded but they do bring some needed pedigree to the titular characters. In other roles, Devere Rogers, Noah Danby and Greg Bryk are alright. On the whole, ‘My Spy’ is a wholly predictable action comedy that will be considered largely enjoyable and fun by its target audience.
Directed – Peter Segal
Rated – PG
Run Time – 99 minutes