My Spy review: Amiable family comedy
Matthew Turner | On 16, May 2020
Director: Peter Segal
Cast: Dave Bautista, Chloe Coleman, Kristen Schaal, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Ken Jeong
At a certain point in their career, every musclebound action hero has to do a movie with a child co-star. Heck, it’s practically a Hollywood rite of passage – think Vin Diesel in The Pacifier, Dwayne Johnson in The Game Plan or Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop. Now it’s the turn of Guardians of the Galaxy star Dave Bautista, who’s enjoyed a thus far entertaining run of roles in the likes of Bushwick, Final Score and Stuber.
Bautista stars as beefy CIA agent JJ, whose exasperated boss (Ken Jeong) teams him with nerdy tech expert Bobbi (Kristen Schaal) on a routine surveillance gig after his over-enthusiastic baddie-bashing fouls up an undercover mission. JJ is supposed to be keeping an eye on Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), the sister-in-law of a notorious arms dealer, but he hasn’t reckoned with the pint-sized genius of her 9-year-old daughter Sophie (Big Little Lies’ Chloe Coleman), who swiftly rumbles his operation and blackmails him into teaching her how to become a spy, while also trying to set him up with her mum.
Family comedies in this genre tend to stand or fall on the comic chemistry between the headlining action hero and his designated moppet co-star. Fortunately, My Spy scores very highly in that regard – the comedic rapport between Bautista’s not-too-bright JJ and Coleman’s fiercely intelligent Sophie is both adorable and consistently entertaining.
Director Peter Segal previously helmed the third Naked Gun movie, so he knows a thing or two about gag volume. Accordingly, My Spy has a good spread of decent jokes, ranging from sight gags to witty lines and physical comedy. Pleasingly, the film has a number of genre-savvy jokes, such as Sophie quizzing JJ on his background and whether he has a dead wife or a dead partner or was the sole survivor on a military mission where the rest of his platoon were killed.
The majority of these gags hit home. Highlights include Bobbi’s reaction to Sophie bursting in on their surveillance op with a smartphone – “Careful! She might be streaming!” – an inspired running joke about Sophie’s unexpected cold streak (the lie detector scene is laugh-out-loud funny) and the best walking-away-from-an-explosion scene since The Other Guys.
Not all of it works, however. For one thing, the JJ-is-terrible-at-dancing scenes aren’t nearly as funny as the film seems to think they are. Similarly, there’s some blatant product placement and the majority of the film’s action scenes are instantly forgettable – one key sequence goes on way too long, considering it doesn’t even involve Bautista. That said, the film rallies for a nicely staged climax that successfully mixes suspense and peril and has some fun with the naggingly familiar setting.
Charming, funny and solidly made, this is a worthy addition to the action hero-teamed-with-adorable moppet genre, enlivened by a game turn from Bautista and a potential star-making performance from Coleman. Also, you can’t help but admire the film’s decision to end with a clunky-but-makes-its-point gag about a request for equal pay.