Review: ‘My Spy’

Peter Segal’s My Spy doesn’t gain any points for narrative originality. With a plot rehashed from a film that would’ve been a star vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the late 80’s or early 90’s, in this day and age, that role goes to the equally bulky Dave Bautista.

As an actor more than up for the recent challenge of alternating between superhero films and straight comedy, he shows the same range of meat-headed sweetness and heart-of-gold moralism as the actor-turned-(California) governor. In this version, Bautista plays a CIA agent who befriends a 9-year-old girl while staking out her mom on special assignment. Yes, My Spy goes exactly where one thinks it will. Kid-friendly at times and hard-nosed action film at others, it’s an odd effort whose muddled tone and mood may struggle to find an exact audience.

The film opens with JJ (Bautista) working undercover in the Ukraine to help broker an arms deal. It’s not long before the mission goes sideways and, like the super-agent he is, JJ calmly and methodically shoots his way out of the mess, scored to a medley of Nena’s “99 Luftballons” and a foreign-language version of “My Heart Will Go On,” aka Celine Dion’s Titanic theme song. It’s only the beginning of cringe-worthy music that will pop up during the remainder of the film in hopes of parlaying awkward humor into something more than what it is.

Blamed for the titanic mess (ahem), the agency sidelines JJ to Chicago with his nerdy but energetic fellow agent Bobbi (Kristen Schaal) on the simple assignment to watch the home of Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), in the hopes that her ex-husband’s super-villain brother will make contact with her.

Complicating their seemingly ordinary mission is Kate’s young daughter, Sophie (Chloe Coleman), who seems smarter than the agents at every turn, figuring out their lurking presence within her apartment building and manipulating JJ to not only be her friend, but her protector and father-figure as well. And, like the ubiquitous themes of most Disney films (although this isn’t produced by them), Sophie’s motivations of righting her broken home is a melancholic underlying factor to their relationship.

It’s in the give-and-take banter and growing affection between Bautista and Coleman that My Spy earns most of its goodwill. Their relationship is sweet and the best part of the film. It’s everything else that struggles in Jon and Erich Hoeber’s cobbled-together script. At times, the film is a goofy, kid-friendly light comedy. At other times, a few choice swear words, some dangerous violence and the inclusion of an inopportune same-sex couple create a foggy narrative of conflicting tempo. Frankly, I don’t see adult Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) fans succumbing to its childish charms so easily … or younger viewers warming to its somewhat older nudges very quickly.

Referencing the Indiana Jones films and straight up cribbing from Notting Hill (1999), My Spy is largely harmless, however, I only wish its exaggerated action subplots were replaced by a more simple story of a young girl and her hapless father-figure. There’s a complex story somewhere in there, it’s just hidden by plot mechanics and over-ambitious, dumb action-film zeal.

My Spy begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video as of Friday, June 26.

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