Written by: Joe Lollo
It seems like every Hollywood fighter-turned-actor is getting their own kid-team-up movie. The Rock had The Game Plan, Arnold Schwarzenegger had Kindergarten Cop, Hulk Hogan had Mr. Nanny, Jackie Chan had The Spy Next Door, John Cena had Playing With Fire, and now Dave Bautista has My Spy. There’s just something appealing to directors about seeing these macho movie heroes paired with an adorable kid – it’s the kind of film that would appeal to a more general audience, not just those who love violence and explosions.
The film, directed by frequent Adam Sandler collaborator Peter Segal, follows JJ (Dave Bautista), a former Secret Service agent now hired as a CIA operative, who is demoted by his boss Mr. Kim (Ken Jeong) after his violent ways cause him to blow his first big mission. Teamed up with a quirky engineer named Bobbi (Kristen Schaal) and returned to his hometown of Chicago, JJ has to look after the wife of the brother of a French criminal named Victor Marquez (Greg Bryk). What Mr. Kim didn’t tell them, however, was that she also has a 9-year-old daughter, Sophie (Chloe Coleman), who needs to not know that they’re spies. He is also courting Victor’s wife, Kate (Parisa Flintz-Henley), considering her a replacement for his own deceased wife and trying to prove he can be a good husband and father to their family due to her husband’s disappearance and the strains in their relationship. Tasked with watching Sophie some more after she finds him working undercover at a party (and doing one of the cringiest dances I’ve ever seen), JJ takes the opportunity to teach Sophie how to be a spy. When Victor blows JJ’s cover and puts the city in danger, JJ must stop him, with the newfound help of Sophie, before time runs out.
While this sounds like a decent premise, especially for these kinds of adult/kid team-up films, the plot is very predictable and is a result of the biggest weakness of the film – following the “tough guy meets little kid, loses tough exterior” formula to a T. However, the writers find ways to make it slightly more original, making up from that imperfection. Due to Sophie’s missing childhood, she views JJ as her “replacement daddy” (note: these were her words, not mine, and I felt uncomfortable hearing those words out of a 9-year-old’s mouth), and while he thinks about ways to dispatch her back home or hurt her, he slowly warms up to her and loses his tough-guy exterior, even going as far as coming to school with her during “My Special Friend Day”, entertaining the class, and giving Sophie a chance to befriend students who bullied her.
Also making up for the lackluster plot is the performances. Dave Bautista and Chloe Coleman have great chemistry, much better than a lot of the team-ups I mentioned earlier, and Bautista seems like he genuinely had a good time throughout this film. Kristen Schaal is hilarious as always, and Ken Jeong, while having less to work with than I would have liked, proves again that he’s a fantastic actor with his good comedic timing and “tough love” mentor role towards Bautista’s JJ. Sophie’s gay neighbors who are at odds with JJ, while somewhat minor characters, are hilarious as well and provide a great lesson in terms of accepting those different from you, all the while being a great source of entertainment during these hard times.
While it’s not a very original film in any sense of the word, and certainly more predictable than some of the other films following the formula, My Spy is enjoyable and certainly has a lot of heart to it. I don’t want to spoil much, but there’s several hints of a sequel at the end – and provided Chloe Coleman doesn’t grow up TOO much, I believe it could still be pretty enjoyable.
My Spy is available to stream on Prime Video, for Amazon Prime members.