“Is it just me or does this seem familiar?”
So asks Bobbi (the invaluable Kristen Schaal) toward the end of the new STX/Amazon Studios comedy “My Spy.” And while Bobbi may be referring to the film’s “Indiana Jones”-aping climax, she could just as easily be referring to “My Spy” itself, which is the latest in a long line of “tough action hero teams up with a snarky kid” movies.
These movies have a long lineage dating back all the way to “Kindergarten Cop,” and since then every screen tough guy from Vin Diesel to Dwayne Johnson to John Cena have been run through their paces. It was only a matter of time before Dave “Guardians of the Galaxy” Bautista had his turn.
If you’ve seen any of the past movies in this subgenre (and even if you haven’t), you’ll probably be able to figure out where “My Spy” is going. But, while this formula can be unbearable in the wrong hands, it can also work if the jokes are solid and the cast’s comic chemistry is strong. Luckily, “My Spy” has plenty of zingers and a cast who seems to be having way more fun than they should be.
The plot, as you may expect, is just a framework to hang jokes on so I won’t spend much time summarizing it. Basically, JJ (Bautista) and Bobbi (Schaal) are CIA agents tasked with a routine surveillance job that is quickly interrupted by a nosy grade schooler (the adorable and quite funny Chloe Coleman of “Timmy Failure”). With his identity threatened, JJ endears himself to the little girl by taking her ice skating, subbing in for her mom at a take-your-parent-to-school day and eventually teaching her some of the secrets of spy craft.
So, no, this is nothing revolutionary. But Bautista’s deadpan delivery matches well with Coleman’s adorable snark and Schaal’s screwball craziness, and the zingers come early and often.
I knew I would like it when, during an early action scene, JJ channels his inner Julia Roberts.
“I’m just a guy standing in front of another guy asking him not to shoot me.”
The girl has a pair of gay neighbors (Devere Rogers and Noah Danby) who steal scene after scene.
“We found out we both have a love of ceviche and long-range missiles!”
While the jokes mostly keep coming, there are a few dry spots, and the action is largely pedestrian blockbuster stuff. It’s surprisingly violent for a kid’s movie, what with all the severed heads and all.
“Here’s Hassan’s head of finance,” the director of the CIA(Ken Jeong) debriefs after a mission. “Here’s Hassan’s head.”
The love story is as lackluster as the baddies. Jeong can’t figure out how to make a thankless role funny.
But I’ll be damned if the cast and the script, written by brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber, doesn’t generate enough good will to keep you smiling – even through not one, but two Bautista dance scenes.
“It’s happened,” Coleman quips during a dance scene. “He’s going to end up on ‘The Today Show.’”
“This looks like the wedding at the end of ‘Shrek,’” Schaal jokes.
That’s the line that closed out the theatrical trailer for “My Spy” (rated PG-13 for action/violence and language), and the theater erupted in laughter every time Schaal said it. But, in the film itself, it’s just one line in a consistently funny stream of one-liners.
“My Spy” is the sort of competent and charming, but utterly disposable, studio comedy that would get ignored any other summer. But, as disposable as the film is, it’s hard to completely denigrate a film that has this much willingness to make you chuckle. Laughter is good medicine, especially right now, and Bautista and company dispense it with ease.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at email@example.com.