Review by EJ Argenio, NRFTW Contributor and Correspondent
While it may be hard to embrace because of the months and weeks spent in lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, the season of summer is officially in full swing. A time of year better known for BBQ’s, beaches and large outdoor celebrations, summer is also a big phase for the film industry, specifically in Hollywood. With a number of blockbuster films (including Ghostbusters: Afterlife & F9) previously pushing their release dates toward later in the year or even 2021, others looked elsewhere for options. In doing so we’ve already seen films like Irresistible & The King of Staten Island go straight to Video On Demand where audiences can pay a rental fee of $19.99 to view films originally slated for theaters from the comfort of their own home. However, other films also intended for theaters & produced by streaming sites like Netflix (as was the case with The Lovebirds), became available to account holders for no additional cost. In recent days Amazon Prime debuted the comedy-action film My Spy, which was being promoted for a spring/summer theatrical release as early as this past February. Despite having to sacrifice the big screen for my television, Amazon’s latest original picture has all of the qualities of the perfect theater friendly family film.
My Spy stars Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy, WWE) as JJ, a well-renowned soldier turned CIA operative who is removed from the field of duty after a sub-par performance during his latest undercover mission attempting to derail a terrorist’s intent to attain a weapon that could impact an entire metropolitan city. As a result, his boss David Kim, played by Ken Jeong (The Hangover), designates JJ to surveillance duty with tech specialist Bobbi played by the always funny Kristen Schaal (Bob’s Burgers, Flight of the Conchords). Their objective is to observe and monitor the communications of a woman named Kate (Parisa Fittz-Henley) and her daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman) who recently moved to Chicago, with familial ties to the terrorist being sought. With the family under video & audio surveillance, JJ and Bobbi assume the hard part is over. However, when young Sophie notices one of the cameras, it doesn’t take her long to find out who is doing all the watching. With their cover blown, JJ maintains the mission by giving into the demands of young Sophie and in doing so, develops an unexpected bond with her, as well as her mother Kate.
Having initially been made aware of the film while seeing the trailer screened before a showing of The Gentlemen months earlier, having it available on Amazon Prime came as no surprise. Due to the pandemic, Amazon had previously announced that the film’s release would not be pushed back and instead would head straight for streaming. With no knowledge of the film outside of what was in the trailer, my perceptions prior were surrounded by thoughts of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Vin Diesel. “Well, I guess they weren’t available”, I thought. “Guess Dave Bautista was.”
The concept behind a film of this nature is nothing new. Audiences have been privy to the concept before with films like The Tooth Fairy & The Pacifier. Our big strong armed protagonist who is ready to battle as many villains as possible has their world thrown upside down by the presence of a child. I assumed this would be 2020’s version of those films. While that was my initial thought, there was some interest on my part because of the humor depicted in previews. Now, having seen the film for myself I cannot only see how my first reaction was unjust, but why this film was theater-worthy to begin with.
First off, My Spy was directed by Peter Segal who previously directed other comedy classics such as Naked Gun 33 ⅓: The Final Insult, Tommy Boy, Anger Management & Get Smart. With titles like these in your resume, one can safely assume Segal knows what makes a film funny. Bringing on a director of this pedigree is great, but what are you giving him to work with? That is where the screenplay comes in.
Erich and Jon Hoeber (RED, RED 2, The Meg) penned a film that not only had a developed story, but also a level of emotion that was heartfelt. Everything the characters did made sense. Despite being a family comedy, albeit with a couple of cheesy PG-13 action sequences (once at the beginning and then at the end), there was a relatability to the character’s bond they developed with each other from start to finish. This couldn’t have happened without the obvious chemistry between that of Bautista’s JJ and Coleman’s Sophie.
The screenplay allowed for this to be portrayed on screen as JJ and Sophie develop a relationship similar to that of a mentor and protege, but it becomes obvious the two actors connected behind the camera as well. Bautista’s delivery is similar to the character of the MCU’s Drax, which is also intended for comedic purposes. For the rest of the film to work, Coleman had to be smart and quick. She executes that part of the performance beautifully. When this kind of chemistry exists, especially in comedy, the contrast between two actors on screen becomes invisible. The differences in age, gender, height, weight, background etc. do not matter. That may be a premise on which the comedy within the film starts, but the performance soon takes center stage. The whole film relied heavily on that exchange between Bautista and Coleman and it did not disappoint.
Bautista is a well established entertainer and actor. We know what his career is and where it is going. He’s not new to films of this nature, having previously acted alongside Kumail Nanjiani in action-comedy Stuber, where Bautista also played a cop. However, this was not nearly the same film. It was much better and more intended for families. I look forward to seeing how 11-year old Chloe Coleman continues to grow as an actor. Having only been seen previously on TV in shows like Big Little Lies, Upload & Superstore, this was her first opportunity to help carry an entire film on the big screen. While this did not officially make it to theaters, and Dave Bautista is not someone you would think needs help lifting anything, Coleman comes through as the funny relatable child-spy. I look forward to what the future of her career has in store for audiences to come.
Additionally, it was hard not to enjoy the score composed by Dominic Lewis (Rough Night, Fist Fight & Goosebumps 2). It was reminiscent of the work of Hans Zimmer in As Good As It Gets or Howard Shore in Mrs. Doubtfire. The light-hearted score contributed to the emotion of each scene and benefitted the entire film as a result.
In the real world, lockdowns continue. It’s anyone’s guess when we can get to the theater again. For now, I am just happy for the opportunity to watch any film that was once intended for the silver screen. Taking into the intention of being a family comedy mixed with sequences of action, one might say there are comparisons to films like Kindergarten Cop & Cop and a Half. However, My Spy creates its own identity because of chemistry between Bautista and Coleman. This is a definitely a rare find when it comes to films that can be enjoyed by the entire family. My Spy is available to stream now on Amazon Prime.