MY SPY. Starring: Dave Bautista, Chloe Coleman, Kristen Schaal, and Parisa Fitz-Henley. Also, Ken Jeong. Directed by Peter Segal. Rated PG (Mild themes, action violence and coarse language). 100 min.
This American action comedy is about an intelligence agent who has been sent under cover by the CIA to look after a single mother and her child who require protection. The child is a precocious 9-year old girl, who ends up changing his life.
A tough CIA Operative, JJ (Dave Bautista) is stood down from regular duties for lack of sensible initiative. He is prone to shooting first and asking questions later. He is given the task of protecting a family threatened by an ex-husband and father, who has made very bad decisions in the past.
JJ has been told this is his last chance at “intelligence” work as a spy, and he openly admits that “he is not good with people”. He begrudges his re-assignment, and especially so, when he finds himself at the whim and mercy of a highly intelligent, spirited young girl, Sophie (Chloe Coleman), who outsmarts him at almost every turn.
Sophie is clever enough to detect the hidden cameras that the CIA have installed in her mother’s (Parisa Fitz-Henley) apartment, and she is smart enough to work out where the surveillance is coming from. With JJ’s cover broken, she sets conditions that JJ must follow to prevent a “failure” report on his assignment, which will mean an end to his CIA job. The last thing JJ needs is a negative report going back to the CIA, which he knows will terminate his spy career permanently. The condition she stipulates is that JJ must spend time with her to teach her about how to be a good spy, and, under pressure, he reluctantly agrees.
Together, they encounter a range of situations that throw JJ and Sophie into scenarios of harassment and bullying, and later into terrorism, where Sophie unexpectedly demonstrates her capabilities. She responds to crises much better than JJ expected, and anticipates maturely what is likely to happen - at times more intelligently than JJ.
JJ’s initial resistance to helping her become a spy is high, but it gives way to affection and admiration as JJ succumbs to Sophie’s beguiling charms. The spontaneity of the interactions between Sophie and JJ is excellent, and the two of them work very well together. The film is scripted cleverly and the exchanges between JJ and Sophie are acted naturally by both.
The scenarios progress the plot in a relatively familiar way, but they engender good humour as Sophie and JJ interact together to the action which unfolds. Sophie treats JJ almost in an adult-way but always with a child’s guile, and JJ drops his tough manner to spontaneously share what happens to her, changing both his attitudes to spying and life, and softening the tough behaviour that has caused his problems.
The comic timing of both Dave Bautista and Chloe Coleman is impressive, and comic situations are never prolonged more than they should be to exaggerate their impact. Kristen Schaal gives extra comic support as JJ’s bumbling sidekick.
This is a likeable comedy that is directed with a quick pace and puts a talented child- and adult-actor together. It has witty scripting, and it entertains at good speed in escapist fashion. Its classification rating communicates that it is intended as a family-friendly film, despite some aggressive scenes. Scary scenes, especially at the start and the finish, give it an adult-like adventure impact, and the movie as a whole comments satirically on other spy movies.
The film is not a world-beater in the comedy stakes, and not highly sophisticated or deeply meaningful. However, it is very enjoyable, light fare, that elicits smiles that turn easily into genuine laughter.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Roadshow Films Pty. Ltd.
Released January 9, 2020