My Spy (2020)

“This is your last shot.”

It should come as no surprise that My Spy is the hokey, ham-fisted, and dated picture the material presents itself as from the outside. But the film has a sharp sense of self-awareness, and not only does it fully embrace these stock features from a formulaic subgenre, it actually has the gall to poke fun at itself. Think of it as a less sophisticated version of the recent 21 Jump Street reboot made for a predominantly preteen crowd. My Spy is about as basic as movies get, and it works because it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than the very rudimentary sum of its parts and plot.

The jumbo sized star of this Little Tikes vehicle is JJ (Dave Bautista), an imposing but less than stealthy CIA agent who’s on his last straw after a botched first assignment. Rather than remain in the field, his boss (Ken Jeong) relocates him and the tech wizard Bobbi (Kristen Schaal) to Chicago on a covert surveillance mission. The two take up a conveniently empty apartment, build a command center, order in pizza for most meals. Their targets are the overworked nurse and single mother Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), as well as her clever, bullied daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman). Kate’s late husband was killed by his double-dealing brother Victor Marquez (Greg Bryk), who’s hot on the trail for hidden nuclear construction plans. JJ is only there to observe and report, which proves harder than expected.

Their cover is quickly blown due to incompetence. Sophie uses her cellphone to hold JJ hostage, and rather than terrorize the behemoth, she chooses to humanize his awkward heart. He’s like a lumbering, quiet Mastiff and she’s a spunky, snippy Chihuahua, nipping at his heels to do her bidding. To go the the ice rink, accompany her to class, check in that homework is finished. Sophie has no friends and neither does the Teddy Bear JJ. Which means, as you could probably guess, they start to lean on each other. JJ schools her on Spy 101. Sophie reintroduces him into the world, and even manufactures organic moments for Kate to potentially fall in love again, even if it is with her strange next door neighbor. My Spy might lack some brains, but its heart is so clearly in the right place.

With a PG-13 at its disposal, My Spy refreshingly doesn’t cater to kids with a bunch of nonsense. It curses and swears, and I quite liked how it was unafraid to tell a few off-color jokes in our over-sanitized, politically correct landscape. The leading lady of this movie is meant to be a scant 9 years old, and while parents might want to censor their kids as much as possible (for as long as possible), they can only do so much in the information age of the internet. That seems to be the gist of the understanding at the heart of the mismatched relationship between JJ and Sophie. It’s shocking to me a new movie that feels this well-worn, and featuring such a boring antagonist was able to make me laugh this much and to actually care. I guess it’s true good things can come in small, surprising packages.

“I did not see that coming.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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