Director: Peter Segal
Stars: Dave Bautista, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Kristen Schaal
For about five minutes last year it looked like we were going to have The Summer of Dave Bautista. Following the box office conquering Avengers: Endgame, two trailers landed for broadly appealing comedies starring everyone’s favourite Guardian of the Galaxy. Stuber promised buddy action thrills, while My Spy looked like the hard man’s own riff on Kindergarten Cop. Both trailers brought back fond memories of the late ’80s/early ’90s, when these kind of vehicles appeared often and were, by and large, kinda successful (or is that just sweet nostalgia?).
Then Stuber was shit and My Spy… disappeared…
Now it’s back, drifting like tumbleweed through multiplexes with the same belated eeriness as Blumhouse’s The Hunt. Most people are scared of going to the cinema now, and comedy movies die a death in sparsely filled auditoriums unless they’re very, very successful. And My Spy, quite unfortunately, doesn’t have what it takes.
I sat in stony cold silence with 9 other people at a public screening as we all collectively let the movie tick by. Bautista stars as JJ, a bumbling, rookie CIA agent with a more resilient army background. He and ‘techie’ Bobbi (Kristen Schaal) are assigned to Chicago to keep tabs on single mum Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) who has vague ties to a nasty piece of work named Marquez (Greg Bryk). Holing up in the apartment across the way, JJ and Bobbi get made quickly by Kate’s savvy 9 year-old daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman). Sophie’s fully prepared to blow their cover, unless JJ gives her lessons in being a spy…
That’s a flimsy enough set-up for an odd-couple flick that ought to deliver efficiently in terms of physical and situation comedy. My Spy achieves sporadically, but disappointingly that trailer last summer used up most of the good parts. More often it’s comfier ambling. Sophie’s interest isn’t really in spying (neither is the movie’s, so that’s fine). What she’s really looking for, obviously, is a father figure. She fakes being grossed out by the concept of JJ hooking up with her mother, but she’s the primary instigator of their fledgling romance. In the process, My Spy trundles comfortably into a rather conservative groove, suggesting single parenthood is an inherently incomplete equation.
There’s a nice B-line in standing up to bullies threaded in, though its optimal solution isn’t wholly without problems either. A late shout-out for equal pay is cheery yet inexplicable, while the third act bout of action labors a particularly tenuous Raiders of the Lost Ark reference as its primary gag. These additions are quirky, for sure, but they don’t really go on to achieve anything else. There’s a recurring sense of awkward space in the movie, as though the editing has been paced for a laughter track that’s since been removed. The reality, probably, is the assumption that we’ll all be rolling the aisles. When that doesn’t happen it leaves odd emptiness in the film.
My Spy isn’t charmless, and the gags that made the trailer so appealing do work. Young Chloe Coleman looks to be having great fun in the role. Fitz-Henley low-key basks in what she probably hopes is a breakout opportunity… but (and this applies for everyone) the material isn’t really there.
The aforementioned third act sees an uptick in violence and rather so-so action. Still, the late-arrival fisticuffs and gun-play feel more suited to a Taken film, and a little at odds with the family-orientated comedy that was coasting by beforehand. It’s not too much, but its indicative of a movie that feels as though its been stitched together from various sources to create 90 minutes of ‘content’, rather like your more typical for-hire Netflix Original that somehow got lost and wandered its way into theatres. When it inevitably lands on the streaming platform its anonymity might finally feel at home. But in the multiplex, it isn’t really clear who this is for.
Do keep going to cinemas. Both the chains and the independents will be struggling for your business, and all are taking steps to remain as sanitary and hygienic as possible during this current crisis. But maybe don’t go carelessly. You can wait for this one to come to you. To quote the film itself:
“It’s a dud.”
“Where’s the fun in that?”