It appears to be the unfortunate rite of passage for every sports star who makes the leap to Hollywood: they must star in at least one generic kiddy movie that usually features a precocious prepubescent co-star and maybe a dog. Vin Diesel had the abominable The Pacificer, Dwayne Johnson put on wings for the rotten Tooth Fairy, and most recently, John Cena paid his dues with Playing With Fire.
But Dave Bautista‘s chameleonic early roles suggested that this former WWE fighter would go a different route than his fellow meatheads-turned-actors. He went against expectations with his first roles, breaking out in a big way with his stoic stooge Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, and impressing in subdued supporting roles in Blade Runner 2049 and Spectre. He avoided taking the lead in underwhelming action thrillers that Diesel, Cena, and even Johnson, had eagerly signed on for early in their careers.
But alas, even Bautista is not immune to the overpowering pull of the easy Hollywood paycheck. After starring in the mostly fine buddy comedy Stuber last year, Bautista has doubled down on the generic action comedy with My Spy, which stars Bautista as JJ, a CIA operative who, after blowing his first major mission, is assigned to stake out a single mother Kate Newton (Parisa Fitz-Henley), who may have connections to a French illegal arms dealer. Frustrated with this demotion of an assignment and with his overeager tech partner Bobbi (a hilariously awkward Kristen Schaal, giving a comedic performance as gangly as her limbs), JJ lets his guard down just enough for Kate’s perceptive young daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman) to discover their base and threaten to expose them. But Sophie offers JJ a compromise: take her to the ice skating rink so that she can fit in at her new school, and she won’t blow their cover. Seeing no other solution, JJ reluctantly agrees and slowly finds himself getting more involved in Sophie and Kate’s life.
As far as family-friendly action comedies go, My Spy is as generic as can be: there’s the spunky little kid, the clueless mom, the wacky neighbors, and many, many hijinks. But My Spy does offer a nice surprising revelation: Dave Bautista would make a hell of a rom-com lead. Charming and awkward in all the right ways, Bautista shows that he’s surprisingly adept at physical comedy. His hulking shoulders and huge pectorals — so intimidating and brawny in his more serious roles — are too unwieldy for the small urban spaces that he finds himself squeezed into. Bautista is the elephant in a china shop, trying to delicately step around Coleman’s bossy but adorable little mouse Sophie, who proves more than worthy foil to JJ; the tiny 9-year-old brains to his brawn. While the writing for Sophie is par for the course for any silver-screen depiction of precocious prepubescent girl (just think young Dakota Fanning in anything, but with a fondness for rock band shirts), Coleman impresses in her first major role, striking up a sweet and believable rapport with Bautista.
Directed by Peter Segal and written by Jon and Erich Hoeber, My Spy creaks under the many generic family-comedy tropes that it is packed with (if we never have a show-and-tell scene again, it would still be too many), but the film picks up once it gets over the school-set shenanigans and introduces a timid romance between JJ and Kate. While Bautista and Fitz-Henley’s chemistry is a little on the lukewarm side, Bautista really sells JJ’s slow warming up to both Sophie and Kate, while Fitz-Henley gives a nice performance as a vulnerable single mom. The romantic scenes themselves are a little on the cringeworthy side (if we never have a bad dance-off that goes viral again, etc., etc.), but seeing Bautista giving such a vanity-free performance makes one think about how the actor would do in a Hitch-style romantic-comedy.
My Spy is silly, it’s unoriginal, it’s tired, but it’s a great vehicle for Bautista to show off his leading man chops. Bautista is not just cashing in a paycheck here or paying his dues to try to widen his appeal. He’s using this chance to prove he’s a skilled physical comedian, to show that he’s game to embarrass himself with the worst dance moves, to make the case that he should star in a romantic-comedy next. Hopefully one that serves Bautista better than My Spy.
/Film Rating: 5 out of 10
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