It’s not entirely uncommon to see actors who often play strong silent type roles appear in something that goes entirely against the type of characters they are accustomed to playing. So it doesn’t come as a huge surprise to see Dave Bautista, a sports star turned actor, go from “completely literal” alien superhero, quiet tough guy, and henchman bruiser to a cuddly teddy bear with muscles in My Spy.
My Spy is a typical family-friendly comedy that puts a soft spin on the ordinarily rough and tough modern spy genre. It sets those parameters with its fairly silly and cushy premise and doesn’t stray too far off into the dark. But it is easy to see how a film like this could be a cash grab for even the most talented stars like Bautista and Kirsten Schaal.
In the film, Bautista plays JJ, a hardened CIA spy who severely botches a mission that he is demoted from field agent to an agent that has to surveil family. Unfortunately, due to some incompetence, a precocious 9-year-old girl named Sophie (Chloe Coleman) discovers one of the hidden cameras that JJ hid and traces it back to the apartment where he and tech operator Bobbi, who hero-worships JJ, is currently station. Sophie then blackmails the two into doing her bidding. This includes things like going ice skating, getting ice cream, “special friends” day, and taking Sophie’s mom, Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), out on a date.
And all of the traditionally low hanging fruit clichés and tropes are there. But it’s not as though the film is trying to reinvent the genre. Yes, the tough guy being a vulnerable act has been done repeatedly. But Bautista handles the material gracefully. It helps that his character has a foil in Chloe. She knows how the manipulate the situation to her favor either by purposefully breaking a kitchen sink pipe to get JJ to talk to her mother, or threatening to expose why JJ and Bobbi suddenly moved next to their apartment unit. It’s genuinely funny to see how JJ caves to each of her threats. At the same time, we start to see a softer side to him that we didn’t see from him at the start. Sophie brings out JJ’s parenting side, which we see when Sophie gets bullied. Again, it’s something we’ve seen before.
So for My Spy to not be dull, JJ and Sophie need to have a believable relationship. Both are kindred spirits, with JJ being the lone wolf type who refuses to work, and Sophie, the lonely new kid on the block who is eager to make new friends but can’t because of no one her age will talk to her. Again, it comes down to Bautista being able to sell that he can be vulnerable. To see him take on the physical comedy is a nice change of pace, even if it is for something like My Spy.
The same can be said for Coleman, who has to be able to keep up with Bautista if we are to believe that JJ has a softer side underneath that tough exterior. And she does so effortlessly. It’s a lot of fun to watch the two try to outwit each other. And yes, we’ve seen these scenarios where the tough guy, who has faced real dangers, meets his match in the form of a tiny kid.
While it does have fun with putting that family-friendly spin on the spy genre, My Spy finds itself leaning towards the romantic comedy when JJ begins falling for Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), Chloe’s mother. There isn’t the time or energy to understand its place within the film itself, but it does give Bautista a chance to cut loose and have fun – this is especially true when Bautista’s awkward dancing goes viral.