It's an unwritten rule in Hollywood that every macho action star must eventually shake up his career by making a kiddie comedy. Arnold Schwarzenegger did it with Kindergarten Cop, Vin Diesel with The Pacifier, and Dwayne Johnson with Tooth Fairy. Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris, Burt Reynolds, Hulk Hogan, and John Cena have all done it, too. Now it's Dave Bautista's turn. Despite having good comic timing and a likable young co-star, My Spy is little more than a compendium of lazy “tough guy is softened up by a cute kid” cliches that's too violent for young children, and too childish for fans of action movies.
Bautista plays JJ, a former Special Forces soldier now working for the CIA. (The “ex-Special Forces” trope is one of the most overused in modern movies, meant to excuse away the hero's ability to do things that defy logic, gravity, and/or the odds of survival.) After botching a mission, he's paired with tech expert Bobbi (Kristen Schaal) and given a low-level assignment: to monitor a woman named Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) and her nine-year-old daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman). They're hiding out from Kate's wanted brother-in-law who's searching for a MacGuffin.
The task should be easy, but it takes Sophie all of five minutes to discover that the hulking JJ is not merely a new neighbor in the building but rather a spy who has hidden cameras all around her apartment. With this knowledge, she blackmails him into helping her acclimate to her new school. She makes him escort her to an ice skating party and come in for “special friend day,” among other things. If you guessed that JJ becomes a more caring person from befriending the little girl, pat yourself on the back. And if you guessed that he eventually has to save Sophie and Kate from the brother-in-law, pat yourself again.
My Spy hits every beat you expect it to, at precisely the moment you think it will. JJ is repeatedly put into situations where his aggressive style is out-of-place. He develops a flirtation with Kate. He foils Sophie's bullies. The precocious Sophie alternately outsmarts him and charms him. And, of course, you get the big action finale where the little girl is put in a preposterously dangerous situation so that JJ gets to have his big hero moment. There isn't a single time when the movie deviates from the well-established template.
As maddeningly predictable as the story is, My Spy benefits from the performances, which elevate the movie to the level of being passable, rather than terrible. Dave Bautista showed his ability to land a punchline in the Guardians of the Galaxy pictures. He does the same here, as well. At times, lines that aren't necessarily all that funny as written elicit a chuckle simply from the way he delivers them. Bautista also generates chemistry with Chloe Coleman. The young actress nicely straddles the line between her character's sassiness and her vulnerability.
One can't help but wish that the script was of a higher quality, given the appeal of the leads. Instead, writers Erich and Jon Hoeber crank out the same old boilerplate that has fueled many other kiddie action-comedies. My Spy is therefore generally pleasant, yet thoroughly unimpressive.
out of four
My Spy is rated PG-13 for action/violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.