'My Spy': Film Review

Courtesy of Amazon Studios
A streaming debut suits this good-enough family pic just fine.
6/26/2020

Peter Segal's much-delayed action comedy pairs a tough guy (Dave Bautista) with a precocious kid (Chloe Coleman).

Now hitting the Kindergarten Cop milestone in his young career as an actor, Dave Bautista pits his muscle mass and stoicism against dimples and lunch money in Peter Segal's My Spy.

Readers too young to remember Arnold Schwarzenegger's kid-centric Cop can substitute The Rock in Tooth Fairy or John Cena in Playing With Fire — that is, if they remember them, because family movies pairing Hollywood hulks with clever kids are rarely very memorable.

My Spy is no exception to that rule, and in this case it isn't even necessary as a tool to expand its star's career options: While a bodybuilder who grimaced through bloody schlock like Commando and Predator certainly needed to convince moviegoers he had a human side (some of us are still waiting), Bautista accomplished that task, pairing muscles with a light comic touch, six years ago in his Guardians of the Galaxy breakthrough. As for his costar, Chloe Coleman, the young thespian has already booked an Avatar sequel following strong work on Big Little Lies and elsewhere: My Spy is a dated calling card for her and, though she's charming in it, not one she really needs.

Coleman plays Sophie, whose widowed mother Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) is on the run from her bad-news brother-in-law Victor (Greg Bryk). Resettling in the U.S. from France, Sophie is having trouble fitting in (though one would think a new girl as adorable and clever as this one would be fending off a swarm of BFF contenders, not suffering the kind of Insta-bullying that screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber contrive here).

In addition to being a lousy in-law, Victor is an international terrorist who hopes to build a mini-nuke, so the CIA is monitoring anyplace he might pop up. Bautista's JJ, a former Special Forces killer who hasn't mastered the subtleties of spycraft, gets stuck monitoring Sophie and Kate instead of jetting to Berlin or Paris. (Ken Jeong brings welcome snark to his role as a Company bureaucrat.) Worse, he's paired with a partner who has never been in the field and is desperate to be his protege. (As Bobbi, Kristen Schaal goes the opposite direction from the absurdist over-the-topness fans may expect: In a movie this unconcerned with making its major story points credible, Bobbi often winds up being the only character sane enough to see how ridiculous the plot is.)

Bobbi and JJ have barely set up their stakeout pad when Sophie discovers a camera they've planted in her apartment, tracks the signal to their place and records footage that could expose them as spies. She uses this as leverage to force JJ to take her ice-skating (?!), and JJ is naive enough to believe his blackmailer will stop there. Soon the kid is assigning him varied tasks, from accompanying her to parents' day at school to teaching her the ways of the spy.

The latter scenes, which don't occur until around the film's midpoint, come closest to being a good showcase for the young performer, especially in a bit where Sophie easily defeats a polygraph test while mocking her tutor. But chuckles like this don't come as often as they should. For his part, Bautista is fine with the unimaginative demands the film places on him, but only rarely — as in lines where he coldly suggests assassinating Sophie and her mom — gets to exercise any comic finesse.

The pedestrian script inevitably gets sidetracked into a possible romance between JJ and Kate, keeping the film from building much real chemistry between Bautista and Coleman. (It's easy to imagine replacing this subplot with more scenes of JJ helping put middle-school meanies in their places.) But at least this angle keeps the pic's save-the-world storyline from getting too bloated. Victor does, of course, eventually come to town, prompting some kid-in-peril action and a chance to reenact one of cinema's most famous fight scenes.

Production companies: MWM Studios, STX Entertainment
Distributor: Amazon Prime (Available Friday, June 26)
Cast: Dave Bautista, Chloe Coleman, Kristen Schaal, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Ken Jeong, Greg Bryk
Director: Peter Segal
Screenwriters: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber
Producers: Chris Bender, Peter Segal, Jake Weiner, Robert Simonds, Gigi Pritzker, Dave Bautista, Jonathan Meisner
Director of photography: Larry Blanford
Production designer: Chris L. Spellman
Costume designer: Georgina Yarhi
Editor: Jason Gourson
Composer: Dominic Lewis
Casting directors: Anne McCarthy, Kellie Roy

PG-13, 101 minutes