Producers: Chris Bender, Peter Segal, Jake Weiner, Robert Simonds, Gigi Pritzker, Dave Bautista and Jonathan Meisner Director: Peter Segal Screenplay: Jon Hoeber and Eric Hoebner Cast: Dave Bautista, Chloe Coleman, Kristen Schaal, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Ken Jeong, Greg Bryk, Nicola Correia-Damude, Devere Rogers, Noah Danby, Vieslav Krystyan, Basel Daoud and Ali Hassan Distributor: Amazon Prime/STX Entertainment
An innocuous cookie-cutter action comedy that traces its lineage back to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Kindergarten Cop” (1990), Peter Segal’s tough-C.I.A.-agent-mellowed-by-sweet-kid opus is the latest example of what’s apparently a required paired-with-children rite of passage for pro wrestlers turned movie stars. Dwayne Johnson started the ball rolling with “Race to Witch Mountain,” and John Cena recently followed suit with “Playing With Fire.” (Vin Diesel, who wasn’t a wrestler but probably should have been, went the same route with “The Pacifier.”)
Now it’s Dave Bautista’s turn. Like his grappler predecessors, he shows an aptitude for pratfalls, no doubt the legacy of his many WWE bouts. Also like them, he makes a very stiff leading man, not that it seems to matter nowadays.
The movie is bookended by action sequences that are pretty nasty. In the first, beefy J.J. (Bautista), a former Special Ops soldier turned rather bovine spy, eliminates a small army of bad-guys when his cover is blown during a meeting to acquire a nuclear device from a renegade Russian army officer (at Chernobyl, no less). His mishandling of the mission—which had as its object discovering the whereabouts of master arms-dealer Viktor Marquez (Greg Bryk), not killing off everyone who might have revealed his location—infuriates J.J.’s agency boss David Kim (a badly miscast, unfunny Ken Jeong).
Kim punishes J.J. by giving him a dull assignment: keeping tabs on Viktor’s sister-in-law Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), who fled to Chicago with her daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman) after Viktor killed her husband. To make J.J. even more uncomfortable, Kim teams him with goofy Bobbi (Kristen Schaal), who’s been tied to a desk until now but desperately wants to get into the field and learn from him.
Naturally things go awry. Sophie, who of course is being bullied by her mean-girl classmates, quickly discovers a camera J.J. had ineptly hidden in her apartment and tracks it back to the mismatched agents’ pad, threatening to reveal their identities publicly unless J.J. becomes her virtual slave. She’ll make him take her ice-skating and be her guest at school for visitors’ day—as well as instruct her in the ways of spycraft. In the process, of course, J.J. also becomes romantically involved with Kate.
Adding to the supposed mirth of this doubled-up domestic material are a couple of gay neighbors, garrulous Carlos (Devere Rogers) and laconic Todd (Noah Danby), who have a rather proprietary concern for Kate and step in when J.J.’s style sense, or lack thereof, needs adjustment in their view. (Even they, however, can do nothing about his elephantine dance moves.)
All seems to be progressing decently despite Bobbi’s misgivings until news of Viktor’s death has J.J. and Bobbi called back to Langley, where Kim fires them for their involvement with those they were supposed merely to watch. Sent back to Chicago to close down shop, they arrive in time to face Kate’s wrath at learning of J.J.’s lies and malevolent Viktor’s return from the dead.
That gives rise to the big finale, which returns the movie to the action mode with which it began. It includes heroics by both Sophie and Bobbi (though, unless I’m mistaken, the latter’s involve blowing up the apartment building—the results of which, curiously, go unremarked on). More important, though, is the sequence in which J.J. literally faces down a plane coming at him down a runway to save Sophie. It’s even more ridiculous than the opening massacre, though cartoonish absurdity is part and parcel of such movies nowadays.
Otherwise “My Spy” is no better or worse than most movies of this ilk; it’s about on a par with “Stuber,” the mediocre mismatched-buddy action comedy that Bautista appeared in with Kumail Nanjiani last year. (This movie was originally set to open in the summer of 2019 too, but the theatrical release was postponed and then cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.) Bautista is big and physically impressive, but wooden, though he occasionally shows a flair for deadpan comic delivery (of course, “Guardians of the Galaxy” already demonstrated his ability in that respect). Coleman manages to make Sophie ingratiating, mostly by keeping her from becoming obnoxious. But Fitz-Henley, though attractive, is bland, and both Schaal and Rogers try too hard to extract laughs from basically drab material. (She, by the way, gets the obligatory vomiting scene.)
Technically the picture is okay but nothing special. Production designer Chris L. Spellman and cinematographer Larry Blanford can’t entirely conceal the fact that though set mostly in Chicago, some establishing shots apart, it was actually filmed elsewhere (in Toronto), but the effect isn’t too distracting. Jason Gourson’s editing isn’t ideally crisp and Dominic Lewis’ score is fairly generic, but they’re generally adequate to the purpose.
This is a movie that follows the formula all too perfectly. But while totally uninspired, it might satisfy undemanding viewers wanting a comfortably familiar action movie with sappy overtones.