Written by: Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber
Starring: Dave Bautista, Chloe Coleman, Kristen Schaal, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Ken Jeong
Being good in one profession does not necessarily mean similar success will be found in an adjacent one. This lesson is learned the hard way when a former special forces service member tries to join the spy world. Finesse becomes necessary and it apparently can be found in the skills of a child. With plenty of cuteness to offer, My Spy almost allowed that factor to help it rise but the plot kept dragging it back down with its unoriginality.
JJ (Dave Bautista) struggles as a spy even with his incredible combat skills. He lacks the necessary emotional intelligence to succeed and when given the last chance in the form of surveilling a woman and her daughter, his cover gets blown pretty quickly by the young girl, Sophie (Chloe Coleman). With the pressure of being exposed, he agrees to do whatever she wants, which ends up creating a strong bond of friendship between them.
The marketing material and plot let you know exactly how this movie will play out with comparables of The Game Plan and other movies where it pairs a young girl and a gargantuan man. In this instance, the hulking man seems to be pretty bad at his job and the girl somehow teaches him by being much better at being covert and getting what she wants. This gets shown on multiple occasions with one of the funniest ones being Sophie having to get to the balconies of strangers’ apartments. JJ gives her a timer to complete it and she far supersedes whatever he thought she could accomplish. My Spy essentially becomes a series of these moments where JJ learns how to connect with someone as Sophie battles with her own issues of not fitting in with the kids in her grade.
Defining the successful aspects of this film comes solely from the cuteness on display. Sophie makes JJ do the most humiliating things, including ice skating, which the hulking man cannot do so well. It provides comedy but their moments overall show two individuals battling with their own struggles, which allows vulnerability for the nine-year-old and the grown man. For all of the skills JJ attains, he comically cannot do well as a spy from not being able to nail any accents and allowing such a young girl to get the drop on him. It gets used to comedic effect at the very beginning where he attempts to have an accent when facilitating a weapons deal but gets called out on it by the people involved. To be fair, it was not the best accent but it shows he might not be the best fit for this specific line of work.
Most of the film’s plot essentially becomes a story about the two of them bonding, which leads to Sophie trying to set him up with her single mother. The spy aspect takes a backseat for a large majority, which made sense because the cuteness factor became the selling point. However, at times, it slips back into the overall spy storyline and it severely hampers the film because it reveals the generic storytelling they tell with this narrative. It serves as the setup and then the climax into the conclusion, but the film found its best parts right in the middle. The moments where Bautista gets into bouts bring nothing exciting or even interesting to the story, seeing as this plotline does not receive any real development and feels unimportant for the majority of the film. It just takes away from the cute moments between this intelligent girl and this hulkish man.
While Dave Bautista headlines the film, Chloe Coleman owns this entire movie, by establishing the character as a smart yet insecure person. Sophie is well beyond her years with her skills but she seemingly cannot fit in with the students of her school. She delivers the funniest lines of dialogue to show the intelligence the character establishes. Whenever she’s not on-screen the energy in the room goes down because it reverts back into the nonsense spy material. Bautista delivers the typical performance we can come to expect from him and he does well to be this large and tough dude, who has the capability to be delicate on an emotional level with a nine-year-old. A good pairing that brought the best moments in the film.
My Spy flirts with being a good film on so many occasions, but the spy storyline continued to drag it back down each time it raised its head above water. It almost refused to let the film be truly good, but the viewing experience remains worth it because of the wonderful scenes shared by JJ and Sophie. Together they grow and learn from each other by adding a good level of cuteness and comedy; everything else can be tossed in the bin.