Released: 9th January
Seen: 28th January
About a month ago I reviewed Playing With Fire and in that review, I discussed this strange phenomenon where wrestlers who become actors have one big thing in common. They all end up headlining a very bad kids’ movie. Sure, a lot of actors end up appearing in one bad kid’s movie because it offers them an easy paycheck and it’s a movie they can take their children to go see so they can prove they have an actual job but wrestlers almost make a sport out of it. Our latest addition to this is Dave Bautista who I kind of hoped wouldn’t have to do this because he has the Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers movies which would be enough to show any future children that he was cool. He didn’t need this, he didn’t need this to be the first major thing he did after Endgame (Stuber came out BEFORE Endgame, if you can believe it). I’ll give it this much, it’s not as painful as that thing Robert Downey Jr decided to do after Endgame.
My Spy features a plot that feels weirdly familiar. CIA operative JJ Cena (Dave Bautista) is on the last ounce of goodwill from the agency after he ‘botches’ a mission. His last chance to prove he should be with the agency involves doing surveillance on the Newton family, Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) and her 9-year-old daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman). His only assistance is tech analyst Bobbi Ault (Kristen Schaal) and sure enough, while he is meant to be secret in his spying, Sophie finds out that JJ Cena (No relation to John Cena, though god I want a film with John Cena with Dave Bautista as brothers) and Bobbi are spying on her and blackmails them into becoming a friend of her family. Shenanigans ensue that rely heavily on the comedic trope of the large muscle-bound man being asked to do typically girly things and a lot of lying that can be revealed during the climax of the film.
This kind of film feels like it’s a relic from the 90s. Arnold Schwarzenegger would’ve been making this film if the script had been around back then, and judging by how the jokes feel I wouldn’t be shocked if a very early draft of this was around back then because the jokes feel like they were written a decade ago, back when you could believe that the CIA would send a giant wall of muscle out on a job that requires sitting and doing nothing. The jokes also just feel generic, like they’re going off a checklist. We have the 50 Shades references, we have the awkward classroom scene, the comedic ice skating scene where the oversized muscle man can’t skate and of course we end on a big group dance number to whatever song happens to be popular at the time of filming (in this case, the song was I Like It by Cardi B). If you can think of a cliché idea that fits with the “Large muscular man forced to look after small child” genre, it appears here.
What makes this film watchable (not good, but watchable) is the absolutely game-for-anything performance by Dave Bautista who keeps reminding us that Drax isn’t a fluke, he just has some spectacular comedic chops that works well. It’s something about his dry delivery that makes his lines work and he does it with the most serious look on his face. He’s also clearly not afraid to look like a fool, pulling out some physical comedy and dorky dad dance moves that can pull out a few laughs while making him endearing. I wish he was picking better-written films though, ones that gave him a lot more good jokes to work with instead of trying his best to make the material he’s been given funny. Sadly the actual jokes and scenarios are either just flat out unfunny, or feel so out of place in 2020. There’s an entire subplot involving the gay neighbours who give Bautista a makeover before a big date… there are so many 90s romcoms that did this same set of jokes. Heck, to put a cap on it, it’s a gay couple where one partner is silent and the other does all the talking… that’s Ruth and Barb from Snatched which is a movie you probably didn’t see, but I’m guessing the writers did because it’s too much of a coincidence that My Spy and Snatched both have an interracial LGBTQIA couple where the black one talks and the white one makes unintelligible grunts.
That gay couple in the movie does make me need to point out that this film goes a good job of representation by showing a diverse mix of ethnicities and sexualities throughout the film. Sure, some might be a little problematic but at least they’re there. My Spy might not be great, but it proves how obscenely easy it is to do some basic representation. Even though they don’t actually give them characters (because this is a badly written film, have I mentioned that yet?), at least they’re there and on-screen for long periods. Other films, take a note from My Spy and just make some gay characters or some people of colour as part of your film. The film probably could’ve worked just the same with someone other than Ken Jeong in the role of the FBI leader, but they put Ken in that role and suddenly there’s some serious representation here… I know this is a silly tangent but there isn’t much to talk about in the actual film and I feel like this discussion needs to keep happening until it stops feeling like a big deal that a below-average family comedy has a diverse cast of characters.
My Spy is, at best, basic. There are some laughs because of the genuinely great lead and no one is outright bad, but it feels like we’ve seen this before. Hell, we’ve seen this done before and done a lot better. With jokes that only land when the actors pull out 135% of their talent and a story that’s so generic that you could literally go in, see the first 15 minutes and then perfectly describe the ending. Littered with minor issues that can be distracting, it just never rises much above harmlessly mediocre. It’s certainly not the worst kids’ movie out right now, but considering it’s up against Dolittle that’s not exactly the best praise anyone could give.