The odd-couple pairing of ‘My Spy’ can’t redeem the film’s generic premise.
Kernel Rating: 2.5 out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 109 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. The action-comedy follows the odd-couple pairing of an adult CIA agent and a child who blackmails him into training her on espionage. The CIA stuff, which focuses on the threat of a nuclear weapon, involves a fair amount of violence, including an opening sequence that results in a shootout and explosions and a decapitated head flying around; a later kidnapping scene; various standoffs between people with guns; and some scary moments involving heights and a scene at the edge of a cliff. There are allusions to characters who have died, fights between family members, and stories about the violent things the film’s protagonist did while serving in the military; some light flirting and romantic tension between a few adults; some bullying by kids; cursing, insults, and some rude language.
By Roxana Hadadi
“My Spy” is more than anything else a collection of genre cliches: an odd-couple pairing between a gruff adult and a precocious child; generic spy stuff involving Russian bad guys and a nuclear weapon; and another odd-couple pairing between that same gruff adult and his nerdier partner. The movie’s humor is broad and its twists are obvious, so much so that even a couple of enjoyable performances can’t really elevate “My Spy” into anything unique.
Returned wrestler turned actor Dave Bautista leverages his impressive physique here as former soldier turned CIA agent JJ, who is having a hard time getting the hang of espionage. In the military, JJ’s directives were clear: eliminate targets, by any means necessary. But as a CIA agent, those same methods don’t work. Although his mission in Chernobyl, in which he recovers a nuclear reactor from Russian and Middle Eastern terrorists, seems like a success, in reality he drew attention to himself by killing so many people, and made a mistake by letting some of the nuclear material get away. He’s treated like a hero by the tech ops agent Bobbi (Kristen Schaal), but his boss (Ken Jeong) is more skeptical.
JJ gets one more chance from the CIA to prove himself with a follow-up assignment in Chicago. The CIA thinks that the baddie who has the nuclear material, Marquez (Greg Bryk), will look for the plans on how to turn it into a weapon, and so they send JJ and Bobbi to Chicago to trail the villain’s sister-in-law, Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), and niece, 9-year-old Sophie (Chloe Coleman). Mother and daughter left France when the family’s patriarch, the bad guy’s brother, was killed for their work together, and they’re trying to rebuild their lives.
Could the bad guy show up to interrogate them on what they knew? It’s a possibility, so JJ and Bobbi set up a command center in their apartment building, spying on the pair. They see how overworked Kate is, and how lonely and bullied Sophie is as she starts fourth grade as the new kid—and Sophie, in turn, notices them. When she takes video of them and threatens to leak their CIA operation online, she blackmails JJ into teaching her how to be a spy. First it’s JJ accompanying her to an ice-skating party, then it’s for ice cream, and soon she’s thinking of ways to hook up JJ and her mom. As the two become more intertwined in each other’s lives, Bobbi becomes increasingly resentful (when she had asked JJ to train her in espionage, he had refused), and Marquez keeps working on his nefarious plans. Will JJ be able to stop him in time, or will his relationship with Sophie get in the way?
Not much about “My Spy” is particularly original. Bautista is self-aware enough that he can sell lines like “There is one thing I’m good at: kicking ass,” and he has fine-enough chemistry with the commanding Coleman. But their friendship, which grows into a sort of father/daughter dynamic, is fairly predictable, and the film packs in a number of elements that are more tiring than interesting. JJ is a wacky dancer! He has wacky interests, like an obsession with the romantic comedy “Notting Hill” and an appreciation for Britney Spears! Other characters are similarly one-note: Bobbi has no qualities outside of wanting to be a field agent; Kate is just a stressed mom; and a gay couple next door to Kate and Sophie are busybodies who pressure JJ into a makeover. There is no real detail to their character development and the plot itself is curiously flat (Marquez puts his plot in motion after more than 52 minutes of movie!), although there is time to pack in product placement for Doritos, Alexa, Waze, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The only real appeal here is how nicely Bautista and Coleman get along. Although the plot is thin, there are a few moments that work, in particular when Sophie insists that JJ teach her how to walk away from an explosion without looking backward; that moment becomes a recurring gag. But “My Spy” doesn’t build anything around these characters, and there’s a curious vacuum where the rest of the movie should be.
“My Spy” is streaming on Amazon Prime Video starting on June 26, 2020.