Written by: Matt Patti | June 25th, 2020
My Spy (Peter Segal, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
I’ve been a huge fan of Dave Bautista as a professional wrestler since I was very young. His WWE character, “Batista,” was my favorite wrestler with his mix of size, strength, and agility, along with his humble yet intimidating personality. Unfortunately, however, seemingly any time I see Dave Bautista in films on the big screen I am unimpressed. He is great at being the wrestler “Batista” but seems to lack quality acting skills in film roles. The one exception is his performance as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy. In that role, Dave plays an intimidating and fierce warrior that also has a soft, loveable side to him, similar to the early days of wrestler Batista. So, I wonder… is it possible that Dave can only give a convincing performance when he is cast as characters similar to his wrestling persona? In My Spy, he plays a character very similar to both Drax and wrestler Batista: a hardened, lethal spy who has a softer side hidden deep inside of him.
My Spy tells the story of JJ (Bautista), a CIA operative who is punished for failing a mission – his knack for action and violence leading to the mission failure – by being placed on surveillance to watch a family of interest inside of an apartment building. He is stationed in an empty apartment on the top floor of the building and is joined by computer whiz Bobby (Kristen Schaal), an annoying and strange woman who is a huge fan of JJ’s and wants to learn how to be a spy. Together, they set up cameras in the family of interest’s apartment. The family consists of only a mother and daughter. When the daughter, Sophie (Chloe Coleman), discovers one of the cameras and traces it back to JJ and Bobby, she threatens to tell her mother … unless JJ does whatever she wants him to, including teaching her how to be a spy.
I had my concerns about this film, as it seemed eerily similar to last year’s Playing with Fire, starring Bautista’s longtime WWE co-star John Cena, which I found to be an unfunny disaster. However, My Spy is a very different, much better film, which is a pleasant surprise. I went into the film expecting a family-friendly, heartwarming film filled with plenty of slapstick humor, but got something quite different. I realized when I saw a head fly across the screen that this is not a PG film, rather it is PG-13, a strange choice for a film like this. With this rating, a lot more adult humor is allowed in the film instead of slapstick children’s humor, which I appreciate.
The writers do a good job of crafting clever and witty lines that fit each character. The humor hits home most of the time, and the characters are unique and interesting. Both JJ and Bobby seem terrible at the secretive part of being a spy and both make some boneheaded decisions, leading to much of the film’s humor. JJ also makes each of his decisions over-confidently, unemotionally, and without thought of consequence, which adds to the humor and fun. There are still some of the usual clichés, as can be expected with this type of film, like the rough-and-tough guy needing the kid’s help with love and the kid needing the tough guy’s help with school bullies, for example. But the plot is executed in a way that makes it feel unique. The premise of a strong and dangerous spy being at the mercy of a 9-year-old girl provides enough intrigue to keep the film rolling smoothly and keep interest high.
The performances are all interesting and believable, for the most part, except for some awkward line delivery that happens at a few points throughout the film. Both Bautista and Coleman have some strange instances of either flat delivery or overly dramatic delivery on some lines which is a bit distracting. Specifically, there are a few times when Coleman is delivering adult-like lines as 9-year-old Sophie that just don’t work, as the kid seems outrageously aware and overly intelligent for her age. However, the great chemistry between Bautista’s JJ and Coleman’s Sophie keeps the film afloat even with these issues.
Overall, My Spy is a pleasant surprise as a unique and different type of family film. It’s difficult to even consider it a family film with the PG-13 rating, but it certainly is one, at heart, albeit with some adult references and imagery. It’s a good film for adults and older kids, but I doubt if people in the teenage range would be interested in it, which makes the rating even more perplexing. The film has a few issues and is nowhere near great, but it is humorous and interesting enough for most to enjoy, despite some of the clichés still present. Even with some of his spotty line delivery, Dave Bautista delivers, in my opinion, his best feature-film performance since Drax. I’m excited to see what kind of roles he’ll pick up in the future.