My Spy movie review: and you can keep him, little girl

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My Spy red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

A “family” comedy about nuclear terrorism, the incompetent CIA agent on the case, and his 9-year-old sidekick. Desperately unfunny, thoroughly misjudged. We are in the worst and the dumbest timeline.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): I’ve seen this concept before, and haven’t like it previously
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female coprotagonist
(learn more about this)

We are living not only in the worst timeline — virus pandemic; record-breaking heat in Siberia; reality-TV president — but the also dumbest timeline, full of politicians decrying calls for justice, citizens denying scientific reality and their own best interest, and movies defying belief. Cuz if there’s one big stupid thing about movies that COVID-19 cinema shutdowns pushing shoulda-been major theatrical releases onto streaming has underscored, it’s this: There are a lotta movies that have a lotta nerve expecting people to cough up more than the hourly minimum wage to see them.

My Spy Dave Bautista Noah Dalton Danby Devere Rogers
“Hello, neighbors. Can I borrow a cup of gay stereotypes?”

The latest example: My Spy, which managed a few days in UK cinemas before everything shut down in March, was set to debut in US multiplexes in April (which couldn’t happen, of course), and now is going straight to Amazon Prime in the US. (It went to Prime in the UK shortly after the shutdown.) The only good thing about any of this is that, if you already have a Prime membership, at least you won’t have to pay anything more to see it. Not that I recommend wasting your time with it. Because this is one of the worst movies of 2020 (so far), and the competition for that distinction is hot.

This is a family-friendly — allegedly — comedy that opens at Chernobyl, why not, for some sneaky bad-guy dealmaking over stolen plutonium. Such fun! And then the nuclear macguffin that everyone is after is secret plans for a suitcase bomb. Oh, and some more plutonium to make it happen. You know, for kids! Except don’t worry, because no one here seems actually concerned about stopping global terrorists from achieving their dastardly plan. So that’s… good?

This movie is also, it seems, set in both the worst and the dumbest timelines.

My Spy Kristen Schaal
The comedy stylings of Kristen Schaal? Completely wasted here.

Apparently the most incompetent agent the CIA has, JJ (Dave Bautista: Avengers: Endgame, Blade Runner 2049), is sent to babysit the widow and child of one of those international nuclear arms dealers in the hopes that clues to macguffiny whereabouts might turn up. Usually, when movies like this are about spies babysitting someone, that means the spooks are surveilling their targets. In My Spy, it’s literally about JJ babysitting nine-year-old Sophie (Chloe Coleman: Big Little Lies). See, the annoyingly precocious fourth-grader has *checks notes* gotten the drop on the highly trained intelligence agent, and is now blackmailing JJ into taking her on as an apprentice-slash-bestie, or else Sophie will so tell her mom, Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley: Lola Versus, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), that they are being spied on.

No one here seems actually concerned about stopping global terrorists from achieving their dastardly plan. So that’s… good for not scaring the kiddies?

Now, Kate is the widow of an international nuclear arms dealer, so you’d think she might be slightly suspicious of the hulking doofus with absolutely no interpersonal skills hanging around her child, cuz JJ has got to be somebody’s hired muscle. But nope: Kate is a sweet, blissful ignoramus who seems as untraumatized by her husband’s recent death and — we later learn — recent outing as an international nuclear arms dealer as Sophie is by the loss of her father. It’s all good, though, because JJ is here to become a new stand-in dad for Sophie and romantic interest for Mom. I’m not even kidding.

There are “jokes” here about JJ lacking emotional intelligence, but joke’s on the movie: it’s even more lacking in that regard than JJ is.

I’m not sure I’ve seen a more thoroughly misjudged movie this year. What is at stake here? Is it global terrorism and the prospect of some major metropolis getting nuked? Or is it Sophie’s need to make friends with the elementary-school mean girls who are bullying her?

My Spy Chloe Coleman Parisa Fitz-Henley Dave Bautista
“Sweetheart, what did I tell you about bringing stray hulking doofuses home?”

This is a comedy with no laughs, desperately unfunny and horrifically dated — as the concept already was 10 years when Jackie Chan’s secret agent couldn’t wrangle a couple of kids in The Spy Next Door, and as it was 15 years ago when Vin Diesel’s Navy SEAL was reduced to changing poopy diapers in The Pacifier. My Spy cannot decide if JJ is a sleek, supernaturally coordinated one-man killing machine or a clumsy klutz who trips over his own feet. Screenwriters Erich and Jon Hoeber gave us the awful Battleship but also the terrifically smart and sharp Red spy comedies, so they probably could have done better here. But this terrible script keeps dropping random pop-culture references to distract us from the abysmally uninvolving characters, ridiculous plot, and rote action… and worse, it thinks that by occasionally deliberately highlighting the fact that they’re straight-up stealing shit from way better movies, we’ll find that funny. It never works.

I kept hoping that Mom would turn out to secretly be an international nuclear arms dealer, too, and would drop a bomb on this bomb. Alas, she does not.

‘My Spy’ is streaming on Amazon Prime in the US and the UK.

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