I’ve sat through a LOT of movies, many I’ve enjoyed and some I despised, but once in a while a film comes along that you just know is a waste of time. The question is how big of a waste of time is it? Is it a complete mess that will make me rethink my priorities or is it a harmless filler movie that’s worth experiencing if you have nothing else better in mind? “My Spy” was one of those films for me and has been for quite some time. You see, this action comedy starring Dave Bautista and directed by Peter Segal of “Tommy Boy” and “Get Smart” fame has been scheduled and rescheduled several times over the last year initially slated for August of 2019 before being pushed to March of 2020 then April and then, finally, straight to Amazon streaming this weekend after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Following Bautista as a soldier-turned-spy who bonds with a young girl who blackmails him after discovering who he is, “My Spy” attempts to take a formula that has been overdone many times in the past and present a more modern iteration of the idea. In some ways it works and proves to be pretty charming, but ultimately it fails to stand out within its own subgenre and isn’t exactly a smoothest mix of tones or ideas.
Dave Bautista stars as JJ, a CIA agent tasked with surveilling a woman named Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) whose late husband was the brother of a dangerous arms dealer. JJ is caught in the act by Kate’s daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman) who blackmails JJ into being her surrogate father-figure and training her in the ways of espionage even attempting to hook JJ up with Kate. As you can imagine things go awry in more ways then one as JJ attempts to avoid being compromised by Sophie while also protecting her and Kate. It’s a classic formula where an older action star is paired with an up-and-coming child star and their characters learn a little bit from each other in the process. It also leads to some admittedly charming moments between Bautista and Coleman complimented by a memorable side-character performance by Kristen Schaal as JJ’s tech specialist Bobbi, the middle woman helping facilitate the bond while keeping the mission on track. Overall I thought it was a fun cast with some heartwarming moments of both levity and emotional substance that helped keep it from feeling too stale, but those shining moments barely offset how generic and formulaic “My Spy” feels as a whole.
“My Spy” is a pretty basic by the books mismatched characters genre blend that does only just enough to develop Sophie and JJ to make them relatable on a surface level and nothing more. Thankfully the actors do a lot with the very little good material they’re given but a lot of it works because it’s already worked before. There are some neat ide including one particular twist involving Sophie’s neighbors I didn’t see coming and the classic deconstruction of action cliches, but not enough to really make “My Spy” anything more than a safe rehash in a played-out subgenre. Every time it seems like the film is going to go somewhere interesting or insightful it phones it in to speed us to the next scene which makes the experience pretty harmless but unmemorable. There’s some fun action and effective humor that put a real smile on my face but the film moves at such a rapid pacing that you hardly have a chance to fully absorb or appreciate that does work.
Probably the most glaring problem “My Spy” has though, and I’m not the first to point this out, is that it feels confused as to who its audience is. On one hand it’s an action spy epic that’s not afraid of gratuitous violence, but on the other it’s a heartwarming family picture about an adult having to deal with bonding with a young protégé. In the right hands this blend could work, but it doesn’t here. “My Spy” never really affirms its identity and as a result tends to be too over the top for kids and too tame for adults. It’s rated PG-13 as well and contains all the worst hallmarks of a PG-13 action film, thus it remains confusing who this movie was trying to win over. I personally enjoyed it because as a lone viewer I could appreciate its mix of ideas even if they didn’t blend very well, but I can imagine others having a hard time deciding if the movie is appropriate for their kids or engaging enough for themselves to sit through. Director Peter Segal proved that he can make a fun PG-13 spy action comedy with “Get Smart” which, to me at least, was a superior film. By comparison “My Spy” is much more generic and confused as to who it really wants to entertain and what it wants to be which I think would have made for a terrible box office run if it did finally make it to the big screen.
“My Spy” didn’t disappoint or enthrall me and that’s kind of what I expected. In the end I actually found it more enjoyable than frustrating due to its charming cast that make the few bright moments work just enough to balance out the rest of the story which, in itself, isn’t exactly boring but also isn’t very memorable. It’s as middle of the road as these kinds of movies can be whether you consider it a spy film or a mismatched pair comedy. I probably won’t ever go back to it or even remember it a year from now, but I also don’t regret giving it a chance. It does exactly what I hoped it would do, waste my time without making me feel like it was a literal waste of time. Its mix of tones can be off putting and may confuse viewers as to who exactly was supposed to enjoy this film, kids or adults, and its brisk pace and lack of ingenuity are hard to ignore but for what it is “My Spy” is a perfectly passable if tragically forgettable okay viewing experience.