Directed by #PeterSegal
Film review by Nathanial Eker
With the likes of Get Smart, Johnny English, and the shag-a-dellic adventures of Mr. Powers, the spy-parody sub-genre is certainly not a fresh one. Equally, the ‘tough guy softens to an adorable preteen’ trope isn’t exactly setting the world on fire with originality. In that sense, My Spy has no right being as charming and likeable as it is. While unlikely to become a classic, its good heart, simple premise, and engaging characters create a delightfully puerile mission that’s anything but impossible to love.
JJ (Dave Bautista) is a hardened ex-army spy, with a reputation as an efficient killer and a closed off sourpuss. When he messes up an important mission, he’s relegated to surveillance duty alongside Bobbi (Kristen Schaal), his adoring techie. His life is turned upside down, however, when he meets Sophie (Chloe Colman), an intelligent and lonely nine-year-old who has recently moved to the States. Can these two oddballs solve each other’s personal problems and learn to get along?
The wonderfully surprising part of My Spy is how it at first glance appears so dreadfully predictable, only to either subvert traditional genre beats, or outright turn to the audience and laugh at them. A recurring joke about the ridiculousness of walking from an explosion in slow-mo and a Bond-style car chase in a Fiat 500 come to mind. Amazingly, its traditional ‘liar revealed’ style narrative structure is handled with a considered grace that never feels forced, but instead takes its time and allows organic character relationships to form.
Despite at first glance boasting a cast of stereotyped silhouettes; ‘the hardened badass’, ‘the sassy kid’, ‘the protective mother’; Director Peter Segal’s choice to devote a number of scenes to pure character development allows the actors to get to know the people they’re portraying. Bautista and Colman in particular boast an endearing chemistry that while far from realistic, propels the film above a forgettable children’s blockbuster to something altogether sweeter.
Sweet is the right word for My Spy. It’s inoffensive and silly and it knows it. The many winks to the camera are supported by a suitably John Barry inspired score that uses a low electric guitar riff in the most spy-filled moments, yet a warmer leitmotif is used as JJ and Sophie bond. Where the film is let down is ironically in its most generically rooted elements; poor action and a superficial villain. Energetic chases are defined by a shaky camera and poor stunts, blended with laughably synthetic CGI. The villain ranks alongside only the most forgettable Bond baddies, his only defining trait being how evil he is. Snooze.
Most surprisingly, My Spy boasts a strong thematic undercurrent with a subtle trail of social commentary about the evolving nature of technology. Sophie’s instantaneous knowledge of filming, streaming, and sharing, feel almost dystopian in their portrayal of a child’s command of machines. Ignoring the irritatingly obvious Apple product placement, the use of tech is well placed. What the film says about surveillance culture is equally understated, particularly for a movie marketed largely to children. A climactic and not so subtle statement about the absurdity of the gender pay gap is also a welcome thematic epilogue.
My Spy is a delightful surprise; a wonderfully deceptive film, perfect for kids of a certain age and adults alike. Its tale of espionage meets daddy-day care is well handled, well written, and well-acted. Despite the odd clunky scene and some dodgy camera work, this sweet mock-thriller offers 100 minutes of pure escapism; ever more necessary in these uncertain times.
It’s a successful first mission for Bautista and Segal in this spy-pastiche gem.