Like many things which were far too big in the ‘80s (hair, shoulder pads, hi-fis) the family comedy sub-genre of “precocious child gatecrashes the life of a grumpy adult” has been well and truly played out. As such we adopted a defensive body posture when My Spy began, expecting to sustain chronic cringe strains to both shoulders from the painful excess of unfunny that was to come.
Friends, that brace was a waste. Because My Spy was unexpectedly hilarious!
Dave Bautista has already made a pretty epic comic flex with his turns as Drax the Destroyer in the MCU. But who knew he had the power to transform a woefully unpromising premise into a genuinely entertaining – laugh-out-loud funny – cliche crushing joyride of a film?!
JJ (Dave Bautista) is on the verge of crashing and burning his CIA career after one too many clumsy mission conclusions provoke his boss (Ken Jeong) into issuing JJ with a final warning and a pride-bruising demotion. Confined to, what appears to be, a babysitting level stakeout with analyst and aspiring field agent Bobbi (Kristen Schaal) and aware that his days are numbered, lonely workaholic JJ sulkily goes through the surveillance motions.
Being the subject of anyone’s covert op is the last thing on Kate’s (Parisa Fitz-Henley) mind. She’s a busy working mum trying hard to build a safe and secure life for her daughter Sophie after the extracurricular activities of Sophie’s dad turned their old world upside down. Sophie (Chloe Coleman) is underwhelmed by her mum’s efforts. Her priorities are to continue to rock her unique personal style and to impress the popular girls who shun her on the bus.
Unfortunately for JJ, neither priority is distracting enough to keep the observant little girl from noticing strange things afoot in her apartment building. In no time at all Sophie has blown the agent’s cover, leveraged him into servitude and stomped a tiny foot through his fragile self-esteem. And gradually her audacity and aptitude for espionage open JJ’s eyes to the possibility of a different life and distract him from the only reason he is in Sophie’s life at all…
Yes, the plot sounds generic. It is. Yet somehow this is one of My Spy’s greatest pleasures. It is unabashedly straightforward, even predictable, and you won’t mind at all. My Spy wins us over with its performances and its heart – a heart as big as Bautista’s bicep. Despite being crammed with high-octane high jinks it is a very sweet film. Chloe Coleman’s Sophie is mischievous and mouthy without veering into stage school cutesiness and her bond with Bautista lights up the screen.
That winning pairing is played to advantage by Erich and Jon Hoeber’s screenplay which delights in pulling the rug out from under some of the lazier spy film tropes without undermining the straightforward fun anyone is having onscreen. The screenwriters previously collaborated on the RED films and similar bold visual gags, madcap energy, and belly laughs permeate My Spy. At times there are even (mild) echoes of Grosse Pointe Blank. Peter Segal’s direction dovetails the intimate with the explosive well.
My Spy is far from sophisticated, the laughs are plentiful but the gags can be cheap. The humour derived from Anna’s odd couple neighbours is particularly hit and miss, although the worst excesses of stereotyping do get a later payoff so might be partially forgiven. There is, of course, a romance and it is possibly the least successful subplot. Such minor quibbles cannot, however, diminish the general rosy glow of happiness that 99 minutes spent smiling at a nice silly film will bring.
My Spy opens across the UK on Friday 13th March