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Popcorn with Zenger: ‘My Spy’ plays to Bautista’s strengths but not much else

The coronavirus pandemic delayed this film for a third release date, but the extra time didn't improve the movie.

If you are looking for a movie to break out of quarantine, you should probably wait a little bit longer.

It’s hard to say who “My Spy” is made for. While the film comes off as the kind of family-friendly flick onetime wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would have starred in the late-2000s, most parents likely wouldn’t approve of their elementary school children singing and dancing to Cardi B songs.

The disconnect of not knowing who its target audience is one of many problems present in this early spring stinker.

Dave Bautista plays J.J. Cena, a hard-hitting CIA agent who is better with his fists than his brain. (photo courtesy of STX Entertainment)

Coronavirus is just the latest this film was delayed. Originally slated for an Aug. 23 release, the film was pulled from STX Entertainment’s 2019 schedule and moved to March 7 before moving again to April 17 because of the pandemic.

“My Spy” is the story of CIA agent J.J. Cena—yes, that’s his name—played by Dave Bautista. Cena is a hard-hitting killing machine, but his lack of stealth and horrible acting make him terrible at being a spy. When an important plutonium mission in Russia goes belly up, Cena is demoted to surveilling a family in suburban Chicago. There, Cena and his sidekick Bobbi, played by Kristen Schaal, are immediately exposed by sassy 9-year-old girl Sophie, played by Chloe Coleman, who blackmails Cena into being her new best friend.

Setting expectations low, “My Spy” is nothing more than a low-tier action comedy. Bautista isn’t a strong actor and is in no way prepared to carry a film of this magnitude, but the filmmakers keep him within his limitations.

Bautista, as a big brooding super agent who is a fish out of water in many social situations, is able to laugh at his awkwardness allows audiences not to take him too seriously. For that, he’s the right man for the job.

But “My Spy” adopts the same comedic style as “The Office” or “Modern Family,” a brand of humor that has long worn out its welcome. 

Dave Bautista and Kristen Schaal make for terrible spies. (photo courtesy of STX Entertainment)

The film relies on Schaal and Ken Jeong for the majority of its humor. Jeong is only in a handful of scenes, so Schaal carries the workload. And as Schaal typically plays similar roles, whether you are a fan of her comedy will directly affect your enjoyment of the film. 

Child actress Coleman does a stand up job playing poorly written Sophie, as the film gives no explanation how 9-year-old girl is so good at outsmarting the CIA, speaking different languages, and being an excellent painter among other things.

There is a small tease that perhaps she learned these things from her dad, who was killed by his own brother, the film’s antagonist. But Sophie’s relationship with her father is never brought up, dropping a major ball on character development. Sophie tries to get Cena to fill a father role, but the exposition needed to sell that void is absent. 

As the film’s villain, Greg Bryk’s Marquez is trying to buy materials for a weapon. However, the film itself cares very little about this plot point, as Bryk is on screen less than Ken Jeong. 

Whenever he is, it’s like a much better movie was playing in the background and the film forgot about it. His arc doesn’t progress the plot. 

Supporting characters are few and far between, like the gay neighbors who offer nothing but 1990s stereotypes such as dressing up men for dates, “You go, girl” dialogue and checking off boxes for representation.

Screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber can’t seem to decide if the film is a buddy action comedy—or a wholesome family adventure, or a Disney Channel-esque production with obscene rap lyrics playing in the background. None of these themes mix well, but they are all part of this directionless mess.

See Or Skip: Dave Bautista and Chloe Coleman make for a good duo but not a good movie. 

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