My Spy is the latest addition to a very specific sub-genre that features a rough n’ tough action star dialling it down to shape a more family-friendly image. Dave Bautista, of Guardians of the Galaxy fame, reports for duty in My Spy, following in the steps of fellow wrestlers John Cena and Tyler Mane (Playing With Fire), Vin Diesel (The Pacifier), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Kindergarten Cop). The film that has had the most persuasion over this film formula is Kindergarten Cop, and its influence on Bautista’s flick is obvious. However, unlike those other mentioned movies, My Spy sticks out as a winning comedy in this often miscalculated sub-genre.
The connection to Kindergarten Cop not only comes from a similar motivation shared between Schwarzenegger and Bautista (they both surveil a family, most notably a mother, that would lead them to booking a criminal), but also because both films share a similar demographic. The advertisements for My Spy make it appear as if the movie is appropriate for younger children, when actually it’s much more suitable for teenagers. The film’s frequent gunplay, slightly foul language, and off-the-wall humour all help built this case. I’m not too sure if kids will understand why an unflinching Bautista accidentally getting stabbed in the leg is amusing, nor will they understand the funny, over-the-top reaction that follows from his surveillance assistant Bobbi (Kristen Schaal).
The age cutoff doesn’t necessarily have a ceiling, considering how often I found myself laughing despite the film’s immaturity. Bautista channels great deadpan charisma as JJ, a stubborn muscle who isn’t sure why his undercover tactics aren’t appreciated by his boss (Ken Jeong). His new mission takes him undercover again, but it’s a job that would restrict him from going rogue. However, the family he’s keeping tabs on has a whip-smart daughter, Sophie (Chloe Coleman), who catches on to JJ and Bobbi easily. An odd relationship blooms where anti-social Sophie blackmails JJ into taking her to fun activities in exchange for his secrecy, but it soon evolves into a friendship as JJ invests himself too much in Sophie’s family.
The reason why My Spy works as opposed to other recent efforts is that director Peter Segal (Tommy Boy, Get Smart) prioritizes comedy over mawkish sentimentality and crowbarred cuteness. The film wants audiences to walk away smiling, but not because Coleman is precocious and adorable or Bautista lays on some goofy teddybear schtick. While the narrative tropes are definitely still intact, the attention towards timing out well-delivered jokes pays off; making sure My Spy still finds its sweetness, but not in a painfully obligatory way.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie