Tough guy Dave Bautista is following in the footsteps of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger as he teams up with a whip-smart youngster to solve a serious crime. This has been done many, many times before, but the formula, if you have the right actors, never loses its charm. Bautista and co-star Chloe Coleman along with a cast of talented comedic actors are exactly the right mix to make this a fun film even if you know exactly what’s going to happen.
The opening scene showcases Bautista’s brawn as he poses as a Russian mobster, meeting with like thugs and trading nuclear paraphernalia. Of course, things go south, but it’s the way things take a negative turn for J.J. (Bautista) as he’s called out for his inability to properly do a Russian accent. The exchange around this obvious error is hysterical as J.J.’s performance is compared to Micky Rourke’s in “Iron Man 2.” Then, we have action. The slow motion gun fight paired with music that doesn’t quite fit adds another element of humor to the scene, but on top of all that is the CIA led by David Kim (Ken Jeong) and tech geek Bobbi (Kristen Schaal), who are watching this all unfold via hidden cameras. Their commentary makes this opening scene keep your fingers crossed that the energy and ability to make fun of itself continues. It does.
J.J., after killing every bad guy in his situation except the one who escaped unscathed with the sought-after nuclear element, is demoted to surveillance duty and partnered with Bobbi, who thinks J.J. walks on water. As they set up their cameras and learn about their “targets,” Sophie (Coleman) and her mom, Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), we find out this duo on the run is related to the evil henchman in search of that nuclear item. Sophie quickly and easily discovers J.J. and Bobbi and blackmails them into helping her fit into her new school in Chicago and teach her how to do spy things, such as pass a lie detector test.
Let’s get this out there right now: The premise and everything that happens is totally ridiculous, but that’s OK. Bautista and Coleman are great together, and as Bautista’s character’s hardened shell begins to melt, even though we knew it would, it’s still sweet. It’s Coleman’s portrayal of Sophie that really drives the narrative, as she struggles in her new school, is bullied and also is trying to play matchmaker between her mom and J.J. We can see her wheels turning every step of the way, always outsmarting her newly found mentor and best buddy, J.J., much to Bobbi’s chagrin.
Bautista finds the right rhythm in this film, unlike his recent performance in “Stuber” with Kumail Nanjiani, seeming to recognize the fact he’s known for his muscle, but he can do a bit more than just look tough. The script is a lot of fun, even if it isn’t an original story, and the pacing and interactions elevate the comedy. The supporting cast is a highlight in the film, particularly Schaal, who shines in her role as the slighted and overlooked fumbling CIA agent. She has a physical comedic skill that makes you laugh even harder as she delivers her lines. And when you add Jeong to the mix, you’ve struck gold. He can turn a running commentary of deaths into a belly laugh. His delivery, timing and reactions make you want to see more of him as you know you’re in for a good time when he’s in a scene.
“My Spy” misses a few chances to be a little bit more than a typical tough-guy-meets-smart-kid movie, as there aren’t really any plot twists or surprises along the way. But thanks to the skillful direction of Peter Segal, this film delivers comedy and has character chemistry and entertaining performances so we can forgive that omission.
“My Spy” is exactly what you think it’s going to be — silly fun. This is total escapism using a familiar story line, but the actors make this one worth watching.
Reel Talk rating: 3 Stars