My Spy is a tonally jumbled mishmash, never quite settling on if it wants to be a zippy satirical action comedy or an emotional all ages story about an isolated tough guy learning to care for a surrogate family. However, the film is a wee bit too crass and the violence is sometimes a tad rough to be considered family friendly. Mainly, where the movie goes really wrong is portraying government surveillance on an unsuspecting people as sympathetic which never stops being awkward. But there are some funny moments here as the back and forth banter between the two main characters is solid. My Spy is enjoyable in fits and starts but it jumps around in tone too much as the end result is kind of muddled.
JJ (Dave Bautista) is a CIA agent who is more used to punching and shooting his way through problems than investigative work. This presents a problem when him and his new technical support, Bobbi (Kristen Schaal), are assigned a quiet surveillance gig in Chicago to watch after a single mom, Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) and her kid, Sophie (Chloe Coleman), because the family may be a target of an international terrorist, Victor (Greg Bryk). When the agents install secret cameras, Sophie realizes her new neighbours next door are spying on her, so she blackmails JJ into teaching her cool spy stuff, eventually leading to her mother and JJ getting closer. Although the CIA agents’ unconventional methods of infiltration is ruffling feathers back at headquarters with their boss, Kim (Ken Jeong), which puts their whole mission in jeopardy.
Professional wrestler turned actor Bautista keeps his tough guy with a heart of gold persona that he has used to good effect as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy. Bautista plays JJ as somewhat emotionally closed off and suffering from apparent PTSD which seems more of a complex issue than could be handled in a funny family comedy caper. He starts to open up a bit which makes the romance scenes between him and the mother a bit more palatable than filler romance bits that usually pops up in the genre. Fitz-Henley’s role as the mom is a bit thankless however she has a few fun reactions, like a when JJ and Sophie should be running to safety but they stand around and talk about how to look cool as the mom is completely exasperated. What works well is the dynamic between JJ and Sophie. Coleman as JJ is sympathetic as the new kid at school who just wants to make friends, and the snarky scenes she has with Bautista are funny. One montage has him teaching her how to evade a lie detector as she provides some funny distractions, or when she wants to learn how to walk away from an explosion without looking back. The bit about explosions actually has a fantastic payoff in the climax of the movie.
A huge problem is inherent is the reason that JJ gets to know the family is because he keeps spying on them. It is hard to enjoy the comedic bantering scenes when JJ and Bobbi are constantly watching the family in every room, make a surveillance state a wacky mismatched comedy. When the mom finds out she is rightfully ticked off but its only there to manufacture a 3rd act breakup between Kate and JJ. Schaal as tech support weirdo plays things really loudly, which sort of works. She does have one of the most self-aware bits in the movie when JJ and the bad guy are fighting on an airplane and she brings up how oddly similar the whole situation is to Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The action isn’t exactly dynamic but it is a bit more intense than what should be in a family comedy; bad guys are shot in the head and one guy is stabbed. This violence is bloodless but clashes badly with the funnier all-ages stuff. As the villain, Bryk is basically just snarling in a suit, seeming like a refugee from a different, much nastier action movie. There is a running plotline about the couple down the hall who constantly butt in on the business of their neighbours which has some laughs, one guy is very talkative as his partner only communicates seemingly in grunts, and the punchline to the plotline is nicely unexpected. Jeong as the boss who oversees JJ and Bobbi is an exposition guy but Jeong puts a few decent spins on moments, like when he realizes that JJ in the middle of an assignment is quoting Notting Hill and Jeong’s reaction is great.
While there is some fun stuff in My Spy and the core dynamic between the big bury spy and the young kid is strong, it still has a disconnect between the funny carefree bits and the spectre of unauthorized government surveillance and a bit too much hard hitting violence. This is basically trying to be Kindergarten Cop for 2020 but the script isn’t witty enough. Its not a mess, but it needs to be more consistent to be good.
Director: Peter Segal
Starring:Dave Bautista, Chloe Coleman and Parisa Fitz-Henley