A film review by Craig J. Koban May 10, 2020

MY SPY jjj

2020, PG-13, 103 mins.


Dave Bautista as JJ  / Chloe Coleman as Sophie  /  Parisa Fitz-Henley as Kate  /   Kristen Schaal as Bobbi  /  Greg Bryk as Marquez  /  Ken Jeong


Directed by Peter Segal  /  Written by Erich and Jon Hoeber

There’s a moment in the new comedy MY SPY featuring star Dave Bautista shaking two school kids out of a tree...with his bare hands...while playing a game of hide and seek, and another with him camouflage hiding in a toy closet with a puppy to avoid detection. 

It was at this point when I realized that (a) Bautista is a really game showman and is willing to make himself look cool or absurd when a screenplay requires it and (b) this movie is much funnier than I was expecting, considering that it's occupying a very overcrowded genre that some would argue is on life support. 

I mean, the formula contained within MY SPY is as old as the hills.  The film's plot concerns a CIA agent that finds himself reluctantly teaming up with an unusually clever child of a family that he and his partner have been tasked with surveilling while undercover.  Of course, it goes without saying that the hulky action hero brute will have his heart melted by the precocious nine-year-old and learn the value of true family in the process while thwarting evil doers.  We've seen countless permutations of this formula play out time and time again in other similar comedies over the years, with films like KINDERGARTEN COP, COP AND A HALF, and THE PACIFIER coming immediately to mind.  All of this has been done before, and some would easily argue better, but that's not to say that MY SPY doesn't do a solid job in terms of working within this genre.  It's a silly and unabashedly enjoyable espionage odd couple comedy, which is made all the more appealing because of the easy going and unforced chemistry between Bautista and his vastly smaller co-star. 

MY SPY opens by introducing us to Bautista's beefy super spy wanna-be in JJ, who manages to foul up things immensely during a botched mission overseas, which angers his boss back home (Ken Jeong) to no end.  As punishment for his lackluster and careless actions, JJ is demoted to petty surveillance duties with his new partner in Bobbi (Kristen Schaal), more specifically to secretly watch over and monitor Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), whose brother-in-law is a vile international terrorist, Marquez (Greg Bryk), who wants to get his hands on a nuclear weapon.  This leads to JJ and Bobbi planting all sorts of tech in Kate's apartment without her knowledge, but thankfully for her she has a remarkably cunning daughter, Sophie (Chloe Coleman), who manages to find out with relative ease what the devices are and where they're located (using Goggle for an assist).  She busts JJ and Bobbi hilariously early in the game. 



Sophie is one smart cookie.  She wisely records incriminating evidence with her iPhone of JJ's mission, which would not only compromise it if leaked, but would also surely lead to his immediate termination (being burnt by a kid with a smart device is probably an insta-career killer as far as the CIA is concerned).  Sophie gives JJ an ultimatum: teach her the ropes of being a spy or she'll leak the footage.  Of course, the desperate agent acquiesces, and with Kate conveniently a workaholic and away most days, this affords Sophie some frequent one-on-one time with JJ, during which time he shows her the ins and outs of what he does while also helping her to confront some of her bullying classmates.  And we wouldn't have a genre exercise like this if JJ and Sophie didn't get over their initial differences and bond, not to mention that a possible romance for her single mother and the operative remains a distinct possibility.  Of course, Marquez shows up to spoil any potential for happiness.   

The generic fish-out-of-water storytelling notwithstanding, MY SPY does a reasonably good job of establishing and embellishing the relationship arc between the tiny child and the mountain of a man field agent that's been "made" by said child.  It might not be the most ideal or ordinary of budding surrogate father/daughter friendships (most fathers don't teach their kids about explosives and clandestine measures), but MY SPY scores huge points when it comes to the fairly winning pair of Bautista and Coleman, both of whom give likeable and winning performances that's benefited from the surprisingly sharp dialogue exchanges.  The 11-year-old Coleman in particular - outside of being a nice counterpoint to Bautista's mountain-sized frame - has an awful lot of natural charm and shrewd comic timing here, most of which plays off of JJ's complete underestimation of his new partner's street smarts. 

Listen, this isn't high brow material at all, but much of it did make me laugh, and MY SPY is replete with multiple moments of goofy, yet well oiled hilarity.  I especially liked the opening sequence, which has the out of his element JJ trying to impersonate a Russian agent with a very spotty accent, leading to the terrorist amusingly deadpanning, "You sound like Mickey Rourke from IRON MAN 2!" (also, an obvious nod to Bautista's MCU work).  JJ is also a deadpan delight at times, which hits a high point when he - without any irony or sarcasm - suggests to Bobbi that they should "kill" Sophie and "make it look like an accident" after the child blows their cover.  JJ's ensuing inability to judge Sophie's instincts and nerve also hit comedic plateaus, as is the case during a perfectly timed pet fish gag that's perpetrated by Sophie for distraction purposes, and to find out what is JJ's kryptonite.  There's also a very funny scene where JJ tries to teach her the art of deception, lying, and reading non-verbal facial and body language cues, which hysterically leads to the ruthlessly savvy and smooth Sophie utterly having her way with him in a continued effort to truly get under his tattooed and muscle padded skin. 

Director Peter Segal (who previously made another very good spy comedy in GET SMART), gives the proceedings a slick momentum that rarely looses steam or outlasts its welcome.  Yes, there are elements that don't quite work here, like the unavoidable romantic courtship between JJ and Sophie's mother that hits every methodically predictable beat, complete with initial meet-cutes, unions, obstacles that impede their love, reveals that threaten it, and ultimately reconciliation.  Still, Bautista and Fitz-Henry have a few nicely played moments together that seem a bit more authentically grounded than what we'd find in most comedies like this.  Yet, other distracting traits stick out, like how some of the satirizing of the action/spy film milieu feels awkwardly forced at times and coming off like it belongs in a different movie altogether.  Plus, MY SPY isn't fool proof family entertainment (as shown in the trailers) when one considers how surprisingly high it is on foul language and violence.  It's not as light and fluffy as advertised. 

MY SPY's troubled release history surely hinted at qualitative woes.  It was supposed to hit cinemas in August of 2019, only then to be pushed back to January of this year...followed by another push back to March...and then - with the Covid-19 pandemic hitting and closing all cinemas - finally culminating in Amazon studios purchasing the rights and airing it on Prime weeks ago for home consumption.  Having said all of that, I feel that the final product is an unfortunate casualty of bad release politics and timing, because the end result is better than expected.  It's contrived to the max, but it never shies away from its past influences in the genre, and Bautista and Coleman, as mentioned, are an infectiously agreeable duo here, which is further assisted by some sly writing that generates worthy guffaws.  Plus, the film wisely preaches a lesson that there's really no where to hide in a game of hide and seek from Bautista.  

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