FUN & CUTE, BUT TOO FAMILIAR
Back in 1990, moviegoers everywhere were introduced Kindergarten Cop, an action / comedy film that was released by Universal Pictures and directed by Ivan Reitman. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the film lead role, the movie follows John Kimble, a tough police detective working undercover as a kindergarten teach to apprehend a known drug leader, Cullen Crisp, before he can get to his ex-wife and son. Kindergarten Cop didn’t really win any awards / nominations for its release, but did manage to score a sizeable return at the box office; receiving $202 million there against its $26 million dollar production budget as well as given the project a sense of early 90s nostalgia as a feature film for its famous one-liners and memorable bits. While there was talk of a possible TV series as a future prospect, a semi-sequel was planned, with the film Kindergarten Cop 2, which starred actor Dolph Lundgren, being released on May 17th, 2016 as a DTV (direct-to-video) release; 26 years after the release of the original Kindergarten Cop. Unfortunately, the release of Kindergarten Cop 2 did not win much favors with moviegoers and critics and received negative remarks from both sides. Now, STX Films, Amazon Studios, and director Peter Segal release the somewhat narrative spiritual successor the original 1990 Kindergarten Cop film with the movie My Spy. Does the film provide a new cinematic ground for the story to flourish or does it have a stale and predictable premise that finds difficulty to spring off of?
A former military man who’s moved over to the intelligence operative side in the C.I.A., JJ (Dave Bautista) is trying to impress his boss, David Kim (Ken Jeong), with his aggressive spy tactics of getting the job done. However, after a botching an operation overseas, JJ is demoted to surveillance, working with lowly tech specialist, Bobbi (Kristen Schaal), who wants to learn everything she can from the beefy man. Their mission is on Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), whose brother-in-law is Marquez (Greg Bryk), an international terrorist trying to get his hands-on hidden plans for a nuclear device. Setting up cameras inside Kate’s apartment in Chicago, JJ and Bobbi’s plans are busted by Sophie (Chloe Coleman), Kate’s 8-year-old daughter, who wants in on the spy game, blackmailing JJ with phone footage of their actions. Forced to become a guardian for Sophie while Kate deals with work demands, JJ teaches the young elementary girl the ways of spying, going through the secretive details of the profession while sophies tries to keep the agent close to Kate; hoping to trigger a relationship between the adults. However, as JJ warms up to Kate and Sophie, he becomes blissfully unaware of his actions that could jeopardize the mission.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Oh, Kindergarten Cop. How much I remember this movie? Well, quite a lot. I do remember when this movie came out. Of course, I was only five years old when the film came out in theaters, so I did see the movie a few years later (probably around 1993 or 94….can’t remember). Anyways, the movie was quite interesting as it captured a few PG-13 action violent bits from the late 80s / early 90s genre as well as some cute lighthearted moments. I can’t remember fully, but I think that this was the first movie that I was introduced to Arnold Schwarzenegger as an actor (either that or it was his role of the T-800 Terminator in T2: Judgement Day). Regardless, I thought that Kindergarten Cop was a pretty good movie. It might have the same staying power of some 90s classics, but it still has plenty of memorable quotes from it (i.e. “It’s not a tumor!). As a side-note, I do remember seeing the trailer for Kindergarten Cop 2 a few years back (even posting the movie trailer for it on here), but I actually never got around to see. If you saw it…. leave a comment on what you thought of it down below.
This brings me back around to talking about My Spy, a 2020 action comedy feature that’s a somewhat spiritual successor to the 1990 film (in some shape or form). Given the idea and concept of a big beefy man at the mercy of an 8-year-old man to keep his covert surveillance operation intact, it’s no stress of the imagination that a movie studio would want to tackle such a narrative for a feature film endeavor. I vaguely remember hearing about this movie a year or two back when it was first announced and thought it was a somewhat cute idea; reminiscent of Kindergarten Cop. The film’s movie trailer certainly gave me that vibe when I saw it; something that was made for the whole family to watch (i.e. tween age range). I do like Bautista, especially since he starred in the MCU Guardians of the Galaxy movie, so I was definitely interested in seeing this movie when it eventually came out. Unfortunately, while the film was originally supposed to be released back in August 2019, the project was delayed until March 13th, 2020 and it was then delayed again due to the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This made My Spy face a difficult decision, with the studio forgoing a theatrical release schedule (yet some countries viewed it beforehand) as the movie was eventually sold off to Amazon for their Amazon Prime streaming service, with a set date of June 26th 2020 to appear on there. Thus, I finally have a chance to see the movie. And what did I think of it? Well, it wasn’t too bad. While the movie doesn’t really break any new ground, My Spy still delivers some humorous bits and charm within its presentation. It’s definitely formulaic to the touch, but works better for the streaming service platform than a theatrical run.
My Spy is directed by Peter Segal, whose previously known for directing such films like Tommy Boy, 50 First Dates, and Get Smart. Given his past work within the comedy field of filmmaking, Segal seems like a suitable choice for helming a project like this; approaching the film with a sense of familiarity (a kind of “double edge” sword in both positive and criticism) and with its target audience in mind. Yes, the movie is rated PG-13, but Segal seems to know who plans on seeing this film; interjecting a lot of kid-oriented fun and nuances throughout the movie and making it approachable for most of the average family members. There are a few moments that have adult style humor, but, given the times that we live in, I think that most kids will probably understand it (or just simply go over their heads…if you know what I mean). On the whole, the cuteness of the movie is really felt within the relationship between JJ and Sophie and in the talents who play them (more on that below) as Segal keeps their back and forth banter bountiful and amusing in and out of the story and seeing the differences between them. Of course, Segal does make the movie have its humorous bits that make the feature easy and fun to watch and, while it doesn’t have revolutionary aspects (in terms of storytelling and cinematics), My Spy provides plenty of distraction as well as well-handled morals to be learned and extrapolated in today’s world (i.e. being kind, embracing differences, and acceptance).
In terms of presentation, My Spy met my expectations for a film endeavor such as this as well as meeting the somewhat “industry standard”. How so? Well, for a movie like this, I really didn’t expect much from this movie (in terms of action sequences and / or locale set designs). So, what’s presented is still quite pleasing to look and certainly meets the requirements of narrative storytelling; capturing the city life of Chicago and making the feature standout with its kid-friendly aesthetics. This, of course, makes everything look okay, but nothing about truly stands out. There are a few CGI moments used in the film and, while most are okay, a few do standout as being shoddy. Also, while the film’s score, which was done by Dominic Lewis, certainly speaks to meeting the “industry standards” of a movie like this, but My Spy does have a few good pop songs throughout.
There are a few problems that I had with My Spy, which are not super critical that to disrupt the enjoyable of the feature, still holds the project from reaching its full potential. Perhaps the biggest problem that I had with the movie was that the whole project was nothing spectacular. I mean, it wasn’t awful and definitely had a charmingly fun premise. However, that premise has been done many times for (as mentioned above), which makes the film a little bit redundant from start to finish. It’s not bad or deplorable, but the film’s plotting and storytelling is quite familiar and definitely smells of predictability throughout. This perhaps stems from the concept idea of the film, but more importantly comes from both Seagal’s direction of the project as well as the movie’s script, which was penned by Erich and Jon Hoeber. In terms of direction, Segal keeps everything very much the “status quo” of similar type projects; making My Spy feel generic and highly predictable (in both cinematics and frame structure). Likewise, Hoebers’ script is steeped with familiarity with the project seems quite overwrought as there is very little to no surprises; calling upon familiar tropes and antics in the story. Nothing is per say bad, but nothing is original…. just repurposed.
Also, the movie is overtly simplistic. I do understand that the project is definitely geared towards the “tweens” age range, but the convivences of everything and how everything plays seems a bit clunky unnatural…. even for a kids’ project. Even the feature’s action and / or more suspenseful moments feel mediocre and lack the “pizzazz” of what the story / movie wants to achieve, which probably stems from Segal’s direction. Additionally, like so many of movie trailers have done in the past, My Spy’s trailer certainly gave away much of the feature’s story / better comedic bits away, which, of course, renders the actual film’s few surprises, turns, and gags parts a little bit moot and unimpressive. Again, it wasn’t a “deal breaker” for me, but I kind of expected a little bit more creative ingenuity than the filmmakers releasing a lot of feature’s better parts during the movie trailer.
The cast in My Spy has a few recognizable faces attached to the project, but, while their acting presence is noteworthy most of the characters are rather cookie cutter. Thus, despite that, some of them do elevate their respective fictional constructs to make them enjoyable through their characters…. case in point the film’s two main leads, JJ and Sophie, who are played former wrestler / actor Dave Bautista and young actress Chloe Coleman. Bautista, known for his roles in Guardians of the Galaxy, Stuber, and Hotel Artemis, has certainly been making a name for himself in Hollywood these past several years and has become a household name in various feature film projects; something akin to what other wrestlers turned actors have recently down (i.e. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and John Cena). Thus, Bautista fits right into that category and does so with beefy screen presence in the role of JJ in the movie. As mentioned before, the whole muscular man archetype that has to go undercover / blackmailed by a child isn’t relatively knew as the characterization of JJ is conventional, but Bautista helps elevate that stereotype with his charisma and comedic timing; creating fun performance for the big bruiser.
Behind him, Coleman, known for her roles in Big Little Lies, Upload, and Transparent, is charming as Sophie and certainly channels the social prey outcast that makes up her character’s personality. This is why her involvement with JJ is quite amusing and its fun to see her character go from a “zero to hero” at school. There isn’t a whole lot of Sophie to make her standout from similar child protagonist characters of past projects like this, but Coleman certainly fits the bill for this role. Together, both Bautista and Coleman have great chemistry with each other and their screen presence clearly shows on charming and friendly the two of them while film. This, of course, helps buy into their respective characters of JJ and Sophie. They are definitely the best part of My Spy.
In more secondary character roles, actresses Kristen Schaal (Bob’s Burgers and Toy Story 3) and Parisa Fitz-Henley (Luke Cage and Fantasy Island) plays the character roles of Bobbi, JJ’s tech specialist partner agent, and Sophie’s mom, Katie. Of the two, Schaal makes the most of her screen time in the movie and definitely delivers some humorous moments when on-screen, while Fitz-Henley delivers a more grounded portrayal of a single mother. Also, actor Greg Bryk (Saw V and Ad Astra) plays the main villain of the movie (named Marquez) and, while Bryk is fine in the role (he certainly looks like a bad guy), the character is rather flimsy as a generic antagonist, who just mostly bookends the bulk of the film’s runtime.
The rest of the cast, including actor Ken Jeong (The Hangover and Community) as JJ and Bobbi’s CIA boss, David Kim, actress Nicola Correia-Damude (Shadowhunters and Burden of Truth) as JJ / Bobbi’s fellow CIA operative agent, Christina, and actors Devere Rogers (Sherman’s Showcase and Friends-In–Law) and Noah Dalton Danby (Riddick and Defiance) as Sophie’s two gay neighbors partners, Carlos and Todd, are delegated in the film as more of supporting roles. Most of them are fine and their acting abilities are suitable for a movie project like this, but these characters are just limited by the film’s presentations; making them rather filler caricatures (more or less) than thought out supporting players.
To keep his operation intact, CIA operative JJ finds himself at the mercy of the whims of 8-year-old Sophie as the pair warm up to each other in the movie My Spy. Director Peter Segal latest film seems to channel the Kindergarten Cop vibe (as well as some other similar projects) into this presentation; resulting in a movie that’s quite straightforward and has an earnest feeling throughout. While the movie doesn’t break any new ground (relying heavily on past tropes and predictability), the film still a decent amount of heart and charm to be entertaining, especially a few bits of Segal’s direction and lead performance from Bautista and Coleman. Personally, I thought that this movie was okay. It’s definitely a sort of “reboot / remake” of the Kindergarten Cop vibe (through its aspects and nuances) and, while it struggles to provide anything new to the table, it still has plenty of charm and heart throughout the proceedings. Thus, my recommendation is a solid “Rent It” as it might be something good for the tween age out there (somewhere at the age around the early teenager years) as the movie does it its targeted demographic and will probably do well on Amazon Prime’s streaming network. If you liked Kindergarten Cop or The Pacifier or The Game Plan, you might want to check this movie out then. In the end, My Spy probably won’t win any rave reviews or stellar viewers during its release, but it’s a charming (yet familiar) distraction to watch on the streaming service circuit. This is one movie that I think that will do better on during the streaming age of movies and TV shows rather than a theatrical release run.
3.4 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: June 26th. 2020
Reviewed On: July 8th, 2020
My Spy is 99 minutes and is rated PG-13 for action / violence and language