By Elias Savada.
I wasn’t sure what to expect before watching My Spy, an action family comedy now streaming online. Mix a tough looking guy (Dave Bautista) with a cute, ornery 9-year-old (Chloe Coleman) with a small dose of cartoon characters. Alas, Wile E. Coyote would not approve of this lamely framed espionage caper from producer-director Peter Segal, whose 25=plus year career has spanned all variety of humor from Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994) to Tommy Boy to Get Smart. But just because he knows the spy/cop routines, doesn’t mean he can raise the genre to a new level. He sure can lower it. Yeah, this one’s worse than Get Smart.
Filmed two years ago and first set for release last August, then, after Bautista’s other 2019 comedy Stuber landed with a thud , was pushed to mid-March this year and then April 17th, the $18 million feature soon found itself one of the many cascading victims of Covid-19. It had managed to play in a few foreign markets (New Zealand, Japan, the United Kingdom) before landing in pandemic hell. Distributor STX ended up selling it to Amazon Prime.
Anyway, Bautista, a former professional wrestler, finds himself wading into the same family-themed waters as other hunky-sportsmen-turned-actors like Vin Diesel (The Pacifier), Dwayne Johnson (Tooth Fairy), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Kindergarten Cop). The result is tepid, at best.
Bautista plays super spy Jason “JJ” Jones, a kick-ass CIA operative who nearly screws up a Ukrainian operation to get a plutonium core, while all his co-workers are watching via HD cameras back home in Virginia. Cue the blood-less, slo-mo action so you can see the bullet shells ping off the slimy factory floor and see a few bodies collapse in silly fashion, watch our “hero” hotwire his getaway vehicle, and then complain about the music on its radio, finally settling on Britney Spears warbling “…Baby One More Time.” OMG, it’s gonna be that kind of tongue in cheek flick!
After a dressing down by his boss David Kim (Ken Jeong) – it turns out that JJ botched the lead on some other bad guys – in a lackluster plot about nuclear bomb plans that need to be found. Demoted to stakeout duty in the Midwest, the brawny JJ, where he’s too big to be hidden in a game of Where’s Waldo, is easily cracked as a spy by the precocious, curly-haired Sophie, who lives with her single mom Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henle) in Chicago. Oh fudge, is this the film where he ends up with the attractive mom?
The film’s centered around the bonding between big guy and little squirt and plays it cute for most of its saccharine 101 minutes. It’s a matter of who’s sleuthing whom, as it takes the kid no time to track the trackers to their across-the-hall hideout.
Mom and daughter are the object of observation by JJ and his goofy tech co-worker Bobbi, played by the goofy comedienne Kristen Schaal, because Sophie’s dead dad was the brother of Victor Marquez, a nasty European arms dealer after those abovementioned secret plans. You get one guess on what city Victor will visit in the film’s climactic denouement.
Yet before that primary relationship developments in which the big oaf falls for the little princes, the likeable shit-for-brains JJ suggests killing the girl when she blows his cover, perhaps taking a cue from the “I was only kidding humor” of Donald J. Trump.
Sophie is cute-clever and that will probably suit the film’s PG-13 audience just fine. The movie has similar vibes to Tony Bill’s same-leading-adjective 1980 comedy My Boydguard, but instead of hiring a sullen student to protect a fellow pupil, Sophie blackmails JJ to do her tag-along bidding. Revelations are made that normally would have had spy agencies taking drastic action. Instead, any untoward glance gathers no weight in the script by Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber (The Meg, Battleship, Red).
Oh, damn, aren’t there some real nasty men at work somewhere in this film?
Funny you should ask. And they finally make a very brief appearance at about the 45-minute mark, when Marquez (Greg Bryk) before disappearing for most of the rest of the film. The screenwriters just aren’t really interested in juggling the domestic fun with the uncle killer. And those plotlines don’t converge until the last few minutes, albeit with one twist I didn’t spot. There’s some machine gun thievery lifted from True Lies, others stolen from one of the Indiana Jones flicks, and a (thankfully) brief car chase that seems edited in a Cuisinart.
Let’s face, this is a odd couple film. Outgoing kid and over-muscled, slightly damaged spy. Why not teach her all about spycraft? She’s a super spy, able to defeat lie detectors with some heavy-handed blinking and canoodle her way into strangers’ apartments. Heck, she’s America’s future!
And what about Kristen Schaal, stuck back in the apartment reading Popular Science, twiddling her thumbs, and annoyed at her partner for not sharing his “expertise” with her. Third billed in this formulaic fiasco, she tries her comic best to salvage her scenes.
It would have been nice if Segal was inspired beyond the heavy handed and poorly executed slapstick of My Spy.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the new documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).