[Screen It]


(2020) (Dave Bautista, Chloe Coleman) (PG-13)

Read Our Full Content Movie Review for Parents

Action-Comedy: A tough-as-nails CIA operative has his cover blown by a precocious 9-year-old girl who blackmails him into teaching her the secrets of his trade.

J.J. (DAVE BAUTISTA) is a tough-as-nails CIA operative who botches an assignment in Ukraine to thwart terrorists from getting their hands on a weapon of mass destruction. His failure draws the ire of his boss, David Kim (KEN JEONG). J.J. is shamed and demoted, with only his fellow operative, the tech-savvy Bobbi (KRISTEN SCHAAL), believing he is still an elite agent.

J.J. gets a second chance when he is assigned to stake out a mother, Kate (PARISA FITZ-HENLEY) and her 9-year-old daughter, Sophie (CHLOE COLEMAN), in Chicago. The woman's brother, Victor (GREG BRYK), is the international criminal J.J. was supposed to bring down earlier. But he has since gone off the grid, with teams of intelligence operatives dispatched around the globe to try and root him out. J.J. sees the assignment as further humiliation, believing there is no chance the man will try and make contact with his family.

Meanwhile, Chloe is whip-smart for her age and discovers the hidden cameras J.J. and Bobbi have placed in her and her mom's apartment. It's not long before she is able to find the two CIA agents also. She blackmails J.J. into becoming her mentor, teaching her the secrets of the spy game in return for not ratting him and Bobbi out. J.J. comes to care for both the girl and Kate, makes friends with a gay couple named Carlos and Todd (DEVERE ROGERS and NOAH DALTON DANBY, respectively) in the building, and generally comes to enjoy the low-key nature of his assignment. But all of that is thrown in jeopardy when Victor does indeed resurface in the Windy City and comes calling.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10

Must every he-man, muscle-head action star do at least one film in which they are paired with an adorable moppet or a cabal of cute tykes? It's one of the worst subgenres going. And it's been going ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger had a hit with the formula in the early '90s called "Kindergarten Cop."

These flicks are all concept. You can sum up their plots in one sentence for the film's poster. Arnold is a cop who goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher to get close to a dangerous criminal's ex-wife. Vin Diesel is a Navy SEAL who provides in-home child care to five kids to protect them from their late father's worst enemy in "The Pacifier." John Cena is a tough firefighter who has to care for three children he rescued from a blaze in "Playing With Fire." Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is a pro football player and confirmed bachelor who suddenly discovers he has an 8-year-old daughter in "The Game Plan."

The beefcake heroes of these flicks are almost always solitary, lonely men who "live the job" and have never had any time for a wife or family. And, inevitably, the kid or kids start to interfere in their cop work or firefighter work or Navy SEAL work or whatever, and that often puts them in harm's way. A few even get pressed into service to help fight the bad guys, which is never believable. The only saving grace in all this pain is Steven Seagal's star fire burned out well before Hollywood could pair him with Urkel or the Olson twins in some awful variation on this.

But Dave Bautista hasn't been spared! The galaxy guardian is going to the well early in his action career. In "My Spy," he plays a CIA operative who's assigned to stake out the apartment building of Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), a young widow, and her 9-year-old daughter, Sophie (Chloe Coleman). As Kim Carnes would describe Sophie between drags on her unfiltered Marlboros, Sophie is precocious. And she knows just what Bautista's J.J. and his tech-nerd partner, Bobbi (Kristen Schaal) are doing.

So, the adorable little darling does exactly what YOU would have done at that age. She blackmails the large, scary man with the case of weapons to teach her everything he knows about the spy game. Screenplay 101 dictates that J.J., who is the least conspicuous spy EVER, must do this. And the 101 class also dictates that Sophie is in dire need of a father figure who will take her ice skating, be there for her on Career Day at school, and impress the other kids who have been bullying or ignoring her just enough so that she'll suddenly have friends.

The film then not so slowly drifts into ripping off the 1987 movie, "Stakeout." J.J. falls for the mom after Sophie manipulates him into their apartment to fix their kitchen sink. Because you know helpless females handy he-man. And all the while, poor Bobbi is stuck back at the apartment watching much of this play out on closed-circuit TV. Will she see when Sophie's evil, arms dealing uncle shows up and conks J.J. over the head, thus putting the mom and daughter in danger?

A few positives can be gleaned from the film. Coleman is a good, little actress and she and Bautista do have chemistry. That helps a LOT. And Schaal has a goofy, fan-girl charm to her and delivers a handful of funny one-liners and observations. But so much of "My Spy" is a rip-off. The flick literally repeats the bit in "True Lies" where Jamie Lee Curtis drops the Uzi down the steps and it does all the shooting for her. Late in the film, there is an action sequence at an airfield where Bautista dukes it out with the main bad guy around and underneath a plane in danger of being destroyed and the film, in its dialogue, even points out that this a rip-off of a similar sequence in "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

This was the last movie I saw in theaters before the coronavirus pandemic took hold and cinemas nationwide and around the globe went dark. So, the temptation is to grade it on a curve and remember the fun I had watching a flick on the big screen before the long hiatus while munching popcorn and slurping soda. Yes, "My Spy" has its charms and it's reasonably well-made. But it's little more than a harmless diversion for you and your holed-up kiddies. Although be warned, this is a fairly hard PG-13 in spots due to some violent content, a bit of language, and Cardi B's periodically profane "I Like It" playing on the soundtrack on at least two occasions. I give the overall effort a 4 out 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed March 10, 2020 / Posted June 26, 2020

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