My Spy

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/26/20 06:32:59

"It Is Not A Good Kindergarten Cop Clone"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Once upon a time—about thirty years ago, to be exact—a movie by the name of “Kindergarten Cop” came out that asked the question “What would happen if you took the biggest action movie star in the world—Arnold Schwarzenegger in this case—and put him in a vehicle that included all the standard thriller beats but also included scenes of him acting opposite little kids as a way of widening his fan base to include family audiences?” As it turns out, you got a good-sized hit—albeit one that may have miffed some parents when it proved to contain more straightforward action than the kid-friendly ads suggested—that would prove to be a template that any number of action stars would find themselves adhering to at least once in order to widen their own audiences, some more effectively than another. (It would be hard to ascribe any one film as being the nadir of Burt Reynolds’ somewhat uneven career, but “Cop and a Half” (1993) comes as close as any of them.) “My Spy,” in which the hulking Dave Bautista takes a whack at the format, may not be the worst film to be made along these particular lines (that one where John Cena was babysitting some kids at a fire station—a film whose title I refuse to expend any energy on looking up—was pretty ripe) but it might go down as the least inspired of the bunch from the shameless way that it cribs from its predecessor throughout.

Bautista plays JJ, a one-time military operative who has shifted over to the CIA and while his skills at shooting people and blowing things up are top-notch, he is somewhat deficient in regards to his other spy skills. When his lack of finesse causes an important overseas mission to go up in flames (among other things), his boss (Ken Jeong) busts him down to surveillance and sends him off to Chicago with awestruck tech support Bobbi (Kristen School) on a mission that is not exactly teeming with importance. They are sent to watch the recently widowed Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) on the off-chance that her estranged brother-in-law, Marquez (Greg Bryk), the dangerous international terrorist that JJ inadvertently let escape during that botched mission, contacts her. Unfortunately, approximately seven minutes after JJ and Bobbi sneak into Kate’s apartment to hide cameras and bugs, they are busted by Sophie (Chloe Coleman), her precocious-but-lonely nine-year-old daughter who immediately figures out who they are and what they are doing. However, she is willing to not spill the beans if JJ will give her some lessons on how to be a spy, though some might question the value of lessons from a spy who is made by someone whose age has not yet hit double-digits

With a setup like that, “My Spy” is a film that clearly has limitless possibilities in regards to where it could possibly go next. Will the gruff loner JJ grudgingly agree to the kid’s demands, which gradually expand to include taking her ice skating and subbing for her overworked mother at a school event where he becomes the hit of the occasion? Will the big guy’s cold heart begin to thaw a bit after spending time with Chloe? Will Chloe figure out a way of bringing JJ and her mother together for a possible romance in scenes that will no doubt have younger viewers squirming in their seats in disinterest? Will there be a gay couple that turns up at precisely the right moment to give JJ a makeover before his first date with Kate? Will Kate discover who JJ really is at just the wrong moment and shut JJ out before he can explain that he really likes her? Will Marquez—remember him?—finally reappear and cause trouble? Will Bobbi, who has been continually taken for granted by JJ, go on to unexpectedly save him in the ta-daa nick of time? Will the whole she-bang wrap up with a chase scene, explosions and everyone getting more or less the ending they deserve? Will some viewers be taken aback by the fact that there are more bullets to the head than one might reasonably expect to find in film theoretically aimed at younger viewers? While I would never dream of revealing the answers to any of those questions here, I would say that if you have spent more than a second pondering any of them, then “My Spy” may be right up your alley.

For everyone else—emphasis on “everyone”—your mileage will almost inevitably vary. The film is as big and as broad as its star but is ultimately not nearly as amusing or winning. Bautista has been turning up in a number of films in recent years—most notably in various entries in the MCU and a nice bit in “Blade Runner 2049”—and while he is not likely confused with the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis anytime soon, he has demonstrated a low-key performance approach and an unexpected flair for humor, both of which have served to nicely complement his undeniable physical presence. “My Spy” has clearly been built around those characteristics and the best moments of the film are the ones where his natural charm is allowed to take center stage. The trouble is that the rest of the film fails to live up to its end of the bargain. Even acknowledging the rather limited nature of what can be accomplished in this sort of narrative, the film is a wheezy affair in which there is hardly a scene that cannot trace its inspiration back to an earlier, better movie. (In fact, a good chunk of Schaal’s pat consists of her observing something going on and commenting on what movie it reminds her of, a self-aware gimmick that is mildly amusing the first time around but which quickly grows tiresome.) Journeyman director Peter Segal goes through his paces in the most blandly anonymous style imaginable, seemingly perking up only for the absurdly overscaled action sequences that suggest that he would rather be making a straightforward film along these lines than a goof on them. As Bautista’s key foil, Chloe Coleman is well-scrubbed, reasonably adorable and eager to please but those without a high tolerance for moppetry may grow a bit weary of her over time. Then again, at least she comes off better than Fitz-Henley as her mother, a thankless role that asks her to do exactly two things—smile warmly when she is happy and furrow her brow slightly when she is supposed to display concern. Comedy vets Jeong and Schaal generate a couple of laughs between them but don’t expect to see this film get an inordinate amount of emphasis on their respective filmographies anytime soon, though it may end up getting mentioned is they participate in any roasts in the future.

If it seems as if “My Spy” has been around forever, and not just because of the familiarity of the material, it is perhaps because the film was originally scheduled to open last spring and had even already held advance screenings for the press when it was abruptly pulled from the schedule in the face of the rapidly unfolding pandemic and sold to Amazon Prime. The idea that this was supposed to be a big theatrical release in the first place might actually prove to be the funniest thing about it because there is never a moment when it feels like anything other than one of those direct-to-video knockoffs of better-known titles that just magically appear on the shelves of Walmart one day without warning. Less discriminate kids may find it to be a relatively painless way to kill 90-odd minutes while older viewers will invariably look at it as little more than background noise to keep the young ones vaguely occupied. Once it ends, however, both groups will be hard-pressed to actually remember anything about it and that may be the closest thing that it has to a saving grace.

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