My Spy: Mission Failure, by David Bax
Peter Segal’s My Spy is supposed to be an action/comedy. Its major failing is not an inability to strike a balance between the genres but to embody either of them for more than a few shots at a time. Only the finale–set in sexy, suburban Naperville, Illinois–fulfills any of the set-up’s premise, achieving actual suspense and spectacle alongside gags about action tropes, like the hero’s car failing to plow through an airfield’s chained gate. It’s a low bar to clear and it’s not worth waiting around till the end for the movie to manage it.
Dave Bautista stars as JJ, a meathead CIA agent who gets assigned to a low stakes surveillance detail after botching his first undercover field mission. When one of the subjects he’s meant to be watching, nine-year-old Sophie (Chloe Coleman), discovers JJ and his partner, Bobbi (Kristen Schaal), the girl blackmails him into training her in the ways of espionage.
That’s after Bobbi reminds JJ that he can’t just kill Sophie and her mother, Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), a hint of the darker sense of humor My Spy repeatedly fails to reconcile with its family-friendly aims. The opening sequence–JJ’s bungled mission–includes a shot of a severed head flying across the screen, which I would hope is not a common sight for the intended audience of tykes who might see themselves in Coleman’s precocious scamp. To be clear, this is not a problem with marketing; My Spy looks, acts, moves and feels like a kid’s movie for nearly the entirety of its runtime, save for these baffling departures.
Even the presence of comedic heavy hitters like Schaal and Ken Jeong (as JJ and Bobbi’s boss) can’t overcome the lazy screenplay by Erich and Jon Hoeber. Sophie is the same smirky adult in a child’s body we’ve seen in countless family films. Kate is a cipher of a blandly good parent. And Devere Rogers shows up as such a by-the-book bitchy gay best friend that the movie’s eventual attempt to subvert the trope is, once again, too little too late.
My Spy rests, though, on Bautista’s shoulders (the ones that are too bulky to properly fit the suit of a suave secret agent). The Marvel movies have proven him to be funny and Blade Runner 2049 showcased his talent for empathy. This time around, all we can see is further evidence of how game an actor he is, an indispensable trait that can harnessed or wasted depending on the director. It should be clear by now which way Segal goes.
Segal has directed well-regarded comedies before, though, like Tommy Boy and 50 First Dates. So maybe the fault here lies with the Hoebers, who steadfastly avoid writing jokes in favor of quippy reactions like, “I did not see that coming.” If only I could say that about any aspect of My Spy.