My Spy, 2020.
Directed by Peter Segal.
Starring Dave Bautista, Chloe Coleman, Kristen Schaal, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Ken Jeong, Devere Rogers and Greg Bryk.
A bruising CIA operative finds himself blackmailed by a precocious preteen girl when a routine surveillance mission goes very wrong.
My Spy is a movie that just can’t catch a break. Shot back in the autumn of 2018, it was removed from the release calendar prior to its planned August 2019 release and shunted to January, before being moved again to March. As I write this review, its US release has just hit the skids again, slipping into the release date vacated by Trolls: World Tour, which itself moved forward a week to take advantage of the empty space created by James Bond’s premature exit.
But, release dates aside, there’s a comfort about watching My Spy. It’s a film we’ve all probably seen before hundreds of times – curmudgeonly bloke has his heart softened by an initially annoying, but ultimately lovely child – but this is executed with a sense of charm that offsets that familiarity. At the centre of it all is the hulking presence of Dave Bautista, hot on the heels of Dwayne Johnson and John Cena in the wrestler-turned-movie-star race.
Bautista is CIA bruiser JJ who, after a botched job in Chernobyl which culminates in him quoting Notting Hill to a terrorist, has been saddled with a dull surveillance gig. He is partnered with over-eager tech specialist Bobbi (Kristen Schaal) and tasked with keeping an eye on Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) – the widow of a recently slain arms dealer. When their cover is blown by Kate’s smartphone-toting, nine-year-old daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman), JJ reluctantly helps her with school bullies, show-and-tell and even teaches her some spycraft.
The well-worn nature of the premise is a potential problem, but Bautista’s performance ensures that there’s plenty of heart and comedy amid the generic silliness. There’s an awkwardness to his screen persona that sits in opposition to his intimidating physique, allowing ample warmth to slip through the vascular arms and collage of tattoos. His bond with Coleman feels genuinely heartfelt, not to mention the fact that Bautista is willing to indulge in plenty of physical silliness, whether it’s sliding on his arse around an ice rink or putting on a mentally-scarring dance display – complete with the obligatory Fortnite references now common to almost all family films.
The dynamics at play throughout My Spy provide plenty of room for chemistry, including Coleman’s precocious sass rubbing up against Bautista’s often terrifying belief that violence is often the answer. A burgeoning romance between JJ and Fitz-Henley’s convincingly frazzled single mother – engineered, of course, by Sophie – is surprisingly tender, while the always-impressive Schaal makes the most of an under-written role as the tech genius desperate to acquire some of Bautista’s action man skills in the field.
Unfortunately, though, the movie occasionally falls into the very tropes it often tries very hard to undercut. For every amusing bit of self-awareness and cine-literate reference – there’s a great Indiana Jones gag – there’s a moment where the story slips into the confines of genre a little too snugly. This manifests in the action sequences, which are uniformly uninspired and tedious, substituting volume and shaky camera for any real degree of ingenuity and flair. There’s also some pretty hideous and prolonged product placement for a particular, triangular crisp snack.
But little of that matters in the face of Bautista’s unique and compelling charisma, as well as the hard-working and talented supporting cast. Peter Segal – director of several awful Adam Sandler movies and last year’s very solid J-Lo vehicle Second Act – is all at sea with the thriller elements, but has the intelligence to sit back and let his cast fly when the volume is turned down from 11 for more intimate sequences. This isn’t a boundary-pushing comedy-thriller hybrid by any measure, but it’s an enjoyable story helped by charming performances and an awareness of its own silliness.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.