Dave Bautista has carved out a nice little niche for himself in everything from Guardians of the Galaxy to Blade Runner 2049 to, more recently, broad comedic roles such as a half-blind cop in Stuber and now a lovable big lug known only as JJ in Peter Segal’s My Spy. He’s a spy who’s so good at kicking ass and not so good at the more subtle spy craft of it all. Still learning how to blend in while undercover and read other people, he’s been assigned to a relatively minor detail watching over and tailing a mother and her young daughter in Chicago. He thinks it beneath him, but after a recent fiasco he has to prove his worth to the agency beyond brawny fisticuffs. Perhaps a meta commentary on Bautista’s career so far?
As far as former pro wrestlers-turned-actors are concerned, I’ve long thought Dave Bautista a better performer and more relatable screen presence than Dwayne Johnson’s absurdly gargantuan muscles or John Cena’s dopey screen persona. That might explain his casting by the likes of high-caliber filmmakers such as James Gunn and Denis Villenueve previously. Here he’s saddled with a Hollywood tradition: action hero meets domesticity, arbiter of violence meets precocious child. All who have gained fame on the backs of their exceedingly large frames must go through this ritual of softening for the almighty dollar. Some have worked (Kindergarten Cop), others haven’t (The Pacifier, The Game Plan). Primarily due to Bautista’s humble, likable personality, My Spy mostly works in spite of its many cliches. Kristen Schaal provides ample comic support as his new techie partner in the field, and there is charm to spare when the lonely spy meets the leery, bite-sized genius (Chloe Coleman), the both of them producing unexpected laughs for such a pedestrian script.