June 26, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Peter Segal
Culture Representation: Taking place in Chicago and Virginia, the action comedy “My Spy” has a racially diverse cast of characters (Asian, African American, white and Latino) representing the middle-class and criminal underworld.
Culture Clash: A bumbling CIA operative is “blackmailed” by a 9-year-old girl to teach her how to become a spy.
Culture Audience: “My Spy” will appeal mostly to people who like dumb, cartoonishly violent comedies that are entirely predictable.
“My Spy” (directed by Peter Segal) is one of those comedies that people know will be mindless from beginning to end. There’s hardly anything funny to be found in the movie’s trailer, which is an indication of how bad the movie is if the trailer can’t even highlight any good scenes. But what might really disappoint people is how boring this action comedy really is. Dave Bautista (the movie’s “tough guy” title character) is outshone in many scenes by his co-stars, including Chloe Coleman and Parisa Fitz-Henley, who play the daughter and mother who inevitably warm this dimwitted lug’s heart.
“My Spy” was written by brothers Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, a screenwriting duo whose previous credits include 2018’s “The Meg” and 2012’s “Battleship.” In other words, their specialty seems to be writing dumb action movies. But a dumb action movie can be entertaining if there’s plenty of action. “My Spy” falls very short of that expectation, as the movie’s pace gets dragged down when the main character starts dating a single mom and starts acting like a domesticated stepfather.
In “My Spy,” Bautista plays lovable dolt Jason “JJ” Jones, a CIA operative who keeps messing up his missions. JJ (who’s an ex-Special Forces agent) does it in the film’s opening scene, which takes place at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine. There’s a big fight sequence that ends with explosions, the bad guys defeated, and JJ in possession of a plutonium pit that has the power to save or destroy the world. (Don’t they all, in movies like this?)
JJ drives off in his Jeep, listening to Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time,” as he basks in his victory. When he arrives at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, he is greeted with a standing ovation by his co-workers. But JJ’s glory is short-lived when he’s informed by his boss David Kim (played by Ken Jeong, playing yet another in his long list of “cranky” characters) that there were actually two plutonium pits, and one of the bad guys named Azar Ahmad (played by Ali Hassan), who got away at the nuclear power plant, has the other plutonium pit.
Meanwhile, David tells his team about an elusive criminal named Victor Marquez (played by Greg Bryk), an illegal arms trader who has recently been dealing in nuclear arms. Victor is so ruthless that he murdered his brother David because they were feuding with each other. Victor is believed to be working with a terrorist named Hasan (played by Basel Daoud), and the CIA thinks that the plutonium pit will find its way to Victor, who will probably sell it to Hasan.
JJ is excited about being assigned the mission to track down Victor. But his hopes are dashed because his boss David is fed up with JJ’s bungling and doesn’t want to give JJ a chance to correct his mistakes. David humiliates JJ in a group meeting by giving this coveted Victor Marquez assignment to JJ’s colleague Christina (played by Nicola Correia-Damude), and assigns JJ to “demotion” surveillance duty in Chicago. (It’s the equivalent of a homicide cop being assigned to traffic duty.)
JJ won’t be alone for this grunt work. His partner is Roberta “Bobbi” Ulf (played by Kristen Schaal, playing yet another goofy-but-nice character), who is very by-the-book. In other words, she’s more responsible than JJ. Bobbi and JJ go to Chicago, where (to JJ’s disappointment), they find out that they have to spy on a widow named Kate (played by Fitz-Henley) and her precocious 9-year-old daughter Sophie (played by Coleman), who live in a modest apartment.
JJ and Bobbie, who are doing surveillance duty in a nearby apartment on the same floor, are puzzled over why they have the boring task of spying on this innocent mother and daughter. However, it’s pretty obvious to viewers that Kate (who’s an emergency-room nurse) and Sophie aren’t just random characters in this story, especially when it’s revealed that they recently moved to Chicago to start a new life after Sophie’s father died.
Sophie is smart but she’s an outcast at school. One day, Sophie finds some of the surveillance equipment in her apartment and discovers that JJ and Bobbi are CIA agents who are responsible for the spying. And Sophie has the evidence on video that she recorded on her phone.
JJ and Bobbi are terrified that this kid will blow their cover, so they let Sophie “blackmail” them. She tells them that she won’t release the video if JJ will teach her how to be a spy. It’s clear within the first few minutes of JJ and Sophie’s interaction with each other that what Sophie really wants is a father figure and a protector, since she’s lonely and having a hard time making friends at school.
The action comes to a screeching halt when long stretches of the movie consist of JJ hanging out with Sophie, and JJ and Kate developing a romance. Bobbi disapproves of this breach of protocol, but she’s more afraid of being exposed as a spy by Sophie than whatever ethics policies that JJ is breaking. Of course, this movie is so stupid that it wants viewers to believe that even though JJ is considered to be an untrustworthy screw-up by his boss, no one from the CIA bothered to check up on JJ in Chicago.
Therefore, when JJ hangs out with Sophie or Kate in public, he’s not exactly “undercover.” Although Fitz-Henley and Coleman have convincing chemistry together as mother and daughter, the “romance” chemistry between Fitz-Henley and Bautista isn’t very convincing. Coleman’s Sophie is both charming and bratty, but the movie’s script is so poorly written that the character barely rises above the generic “smart aleck” kid that’s been seen in many other movies.
And since JJ is supposed to be “tough on the outside and tender on the inside,” he’s socially awkward when it comes to dating. It just so happens there are two apartment neighbors in the building who come to JJ’s rescue to help him with grooming, wardrobe and romance advice: gay live-in boyfriends Carlos (played by Devere Rogers) and Todd (played by Noah Dalton Danby). A running joke in the film is that Carlos is the sassy motormouth, while Todd is the type who doesn’t like to talk. Todd literally does nothing but grunt in the movie, but this gag gets old very quickly.
The action scenes in “My Spy” are also cringeworthy, especially those involving explosions. Characters walk too close to explosions, which look like cheap visual effects. In real life, these people would be knocked down or severely burned if they walked that close to an explosion, not to mention the damage to their lungs from inhaling all that noxious smoke.
STX Entertainment was originally going to release “My Spy” in theaters, but the company dumped the movie by selling it to Amazon Prime Video. It’s easy to see why this dud isn’t worth the price of a movie ticket. With long spans of the film bogged down in the would-be “stepdad” subplot, “My Spy” fails to deliver a suspense-filled action story. In that regard, the movie is very much like JJ—a lot of witless talk with a lot of bungling along the way.
Amazon Prime Video premiered “My Spy” on June 26, 2020.