We’ve all seen one of these films. Every hardman coming up in Hollywood has done one to varying success. Vin Diesel had The Pacifier, The Rock did The Tooth Fairy and now Dave Bautista brings us My Spy, a perfectly acceptable family friendly film to pass the time on a dull day. However if you are expecting anything more from this middling experience I don’t know what to tell you. Watch something else? If a few decent belly laughs and an impressive child performance are enough to keep you entertained then come one, come all.
When CIA agent JJ (Bautista) screws up a mission leaving nuclear material in the hands of terrorists he is demoted and assigned to watch the family of a recently deceased financier. When he is found out by 9 year old Sophie (Chloe Coleman), the daughter of the woman he was sent to watch he finds himself being blackmailed by her. Little does he or Sophie know that they might be the key to fixing JJ’s mistake, if only they could handle the terrorists out to get them.
While that might sound like an oversimplification of a film about moving on from chapters of your life, My Spy doesn’t do itself any favours by trivialising death, terrorism and what writers Erich and Jon Hoeber assume is the all around stupidity of children, which is ironic considering how adept and grown up Sophie is. Much like Sonic The Hedgehog, My Spy is a 90s throwback, full of Eastern European villains, a strange obsession with making actual murder seem funny somehow and glorifying violence. It’s our generation’s Home Alone, only with more killing and less charisma.
Bautista, coming off the success of his role as Drax in the Marvel Cinematic Universe here seems strangely suited to the change in genre, proving adept at physical comedy and burlesque style humour making his mono-tonal tone and dour physicality work for him. JJ is an intimidating presence but he is also a walking joke, someone everyone is laughing at, even the 9 year old who might just be the closest he has come to a friend. It wouldn’t work if Bautista wasn’t willing to make a fool out of himself and with the extended dance sequences and gossiping over ice-cream, he more than does his fair share of cringe humour to prove that point.
It’s Coleman who brings the most out of the film’s limited comic offerings as she makes Sophie both naive and utterly dry, a sarcastic and arrogant presence that acts like whats happening around her is beneath her, but still embodying a youthful warmth while she puts people in their place. A consistently reliable Kristin Shaal as JJ’s new partner fits in well but oftentimes feels like a condiment to an unfortunately bland meal.
In fact, when these three are drifting from one scene to the next, absent of the forgettable plot, the film works best. Their collective chemistry gives this family film more character when it isn’t trying desperately to shoehorn in a story about international espionage, one that picks and chooses when to pop back up for 30 second scenes of laughable tension. Servicing this plot proves to be My Spy’s ultimate joke and because of this, the ending falls utterly flat for obvious reasons.
Although it is clear to see an intent to make this more than the conventional hardman does comedy picture, it never really breaks the shackles it seems to intentionally strap to itself. To say I enjoyed My Spy might, for that reason be going a little too far but if I had to pick between this and the other films of its kind, I’d gladly watch this again.