Back in 2005, WWE was looking for its successor to The Rock and was torn between John Cena and Dave Bautista. Fast forward to 2020 and Cena and Bautista are once again following The Rock’s lead.
Both did the expected early forays in action films, but a successful career is built on more than explosions. The real money is the fun family genre and Bautista tries his hand with the well-meaning, but uneven My Spy.
Bautista (Avengers: Endgame) plays J.J., a CIA agent who’s more of the shoot first and second mindset. After bungling his last assignment, J.J.’s superior (Ken Jeong) sticks him on surveillance duty with the excitable tech specialist Bobbi (Kristen Schaal). They’re tasked with watching the widow, Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley, Luke Cage) and daughter, Sophie (Chloe Coleman), of a mercenary whose former associates might be looking for them.
Only problem is J.J. and Bobbi plant a camera in the most obvious location and Sophie’s on to their game. An outcast without any friends, Sophie agrees not to snitch if J.J. basically serves as her surrogate father. This isn’t a new formula with the put upon ultra serious cop/secret agent/spy learns to soften up from an adorably cute child. Bautista and Coleman stick to the genre script just fine. It’s not the most taxing of roles to play, but they check all the boxes easily enough.
As has always been the case in this sub-genre, the willingness of the big musclebound lead to soften up and play the comedic fool is key. Bautista is game to look as ridiculous as a scene calls for although at times he appears to be putting too much thought into it.
There’s two big problems here. The first is screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber forget they’re writing a family comedy. There’s too much questionable language for a film supposedly geared for children and their parents including an uncensored Cardi B song. It’s not so much a random line here and there, but essentially in every scene kind of not-so-family-oriented dialogue. The content is also dicey including one scene with a severed head. And why not roll out the tired cliche of the gay black guy as a hack for some cheap laughs?
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The other is it’s incredibly hard for the child in this scenario to not come off as bratty and manipulative. Coleman pulls out all of her cutest instincts, but it’s hard not to find Sophie somewhat bratty and delusional. Yes, the big creepy CIA is going to magically fall in love with my mother and everything will be right in the world.
Director Peter Segal (Grudge Match) tries to paint within the lines and avoids anything too daring or challenging with the scenes. A little light physical comedy here, some awkward exchanges there and 90-something minutes later, that’s a wrap folks.
Most of the humor feels forced with a lot of the lines failing to deliver quality laughs. Too often it feels like there’s this pause for non-existent audience laughter. This isn’t a film that would have benefited any more from playing in theaters. Children would likely get bored quickly while adults will tune out even faster. The best joke is a semi-meta reference from a viral video referencing J.J. as Hulk — another Marvel Studios green-hued character — and Meghan Markle, a nod to Fitz-Heneley’s role as Markle in Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance.
Segal shoots it competently, but there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done far better before like…Tooth Fairy or The Game Plan.
Bautista proves he can handle the genre and could shine provided he gets better material that remembers its target audience and is actually funny.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Photo Credit: Amazon