Though My Spy may seem like the latest entry in the long line of kiddie flicks featuring tough guys hanging out with (and getting softened by) their young co-stars—think 2007’s The Game Plan or even 1990’s Kindergarten Cop—it actually carries a PG-13 rating. And that little bit of an edge gives parents a reason to stick around… along with the fact that we’re all stuck in our houses anyway, the kids are going stir-crazy, and the movie’s free on Amazon Prime.
When we first meet Dave Bautista’s JJ—an ex-Special Forces hulk trying to prove he has enough finesse to go undercover for the CIA—he’s trying to break up a diamonds-for-plutonium deal between some bad guys in Ukraine. Those first ten minutes are sprinkled with pop culture references, including a famous line from 1999’s Notting Hill, Nena’s classic “99 Luftballons”, and even a Russian rendition of “My Heart Will Go On”, just so we know what we’re in for.
The mission goes south, though, giving JJ’s boss (an amusing Ken Jeong) no choice but to relegate him to tedious stakeout duty in Chicago with CIA tech Bobbi (Kristen Schaal). Their mark is a woman whose late husband’s brother is a bad guy wanted for something. (Who knows what, but that part of the plot is hopelessly muddled anyway and ultimately winds up as only a pointless distraction.) Meanwhile, the woman’s precocious nine-year-old daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman), discovers JJ and Bobbi’s hideout and then proceeds to blackmail them—either they help her out with a few favors, or she exposes them on the internet. And, yes, she is only nine.
Being the new kid in town, little Sophie is either bullied or ignored by all her classmates, but having a tough guy on her hip changes things really fast. Before long, she’s not only making friends but also getting a taste for the spy life. Cue the humorous montage of JJ training Sophie how to beat a lie detector test and to distract bad guys in order to make a quick escape.
There’s definitely something endearing about My Spy, and it’s mostly the result of the chemistry shared by Bautista and Coleman. Picking up where his Guardians of the Galaxy character Drax left off, Bautista reminds us not only of his comic timing but also his softer side, and Coleman (who has already turned heads in Big Little Lies and Prime’s Upload) continues to dazzle here.
Screenwriter siblings Jon and Erich Hoeber, who gave us 2010’s RED and its 2013 sequel, have put together a largely winning script, full of sharp humor for both young and old alike. The only real issues arise whenever the film cuts away from JJ and Sophie to focus on the nefarious men who, naturally, are making their way to Chicago for the all-to-obvious showdown, wherein JJ, naturally, will prove his worth and, naturally, get back in the good graces of his boss. A secondary subplot involving JJ falling for Sophie’s mom is also completely vacuous.
Credit the Hoebers, along with director Peter Segal (2003’s Get Smart), for not going the cutesy, rated-G route, though. What could have been a throw-away clunker appealing only to 8-year-olds instead emerges as a halfway decent bit of early-summer fun for everyone over the age of 8. And, really, you haven’t truly lived until you’ve heard “My Heart Will Go On” in Russian.