One of my wife’s biggest movie pet peeves is when kids are smarter than adults. While some kids are most definitely smarter than some adults, this theme almost always goes way too far when asking you to suspend your disbelief. Home Alone, Rookie of the Year, The Goonies, Spy Kids, Holes, any of the Harry Potter films – all annoy her to a certain extent. While I am slightly more forgiving (The Goonies is just too good), I agree. My Spy is no exception to this rule and probably would have sent my wife out of the theater in fifteen minutes.
JJ (Dave Bautista) is a CIA agent in the middle of an undercover operation in Russia, trying to thwart a weapons deal involving plutonium. Just as the deal is about to be sealed, JJ inadvertently blows his cover by asking if he can help whatever is the next phase of the buyer’s plan (the question causes a bad guy to accuse him of being someone else). JJ tries to cover up the mistake, but then just admits that he is a spy. This being a kids’ movie, JJ is not executed on the spot. Instead, he kills all but one bad guy and recovers the plutonium. This scene kind of works for its action and an attempt at humor through some silly cinematography and choreography, which is about what one expects from a spy movie aimed at children.
When JJ returns to his office in America, he receives a standing ovation from everyone. Everyone except his boss, David (Ken Jeong), that is. David shows JJ video of the botched weapons deal, pointing out the escape of Marquez (Greg Bryk) and that there is more plutonium out there. This scene does not work for multiple reasons. One, Ken Jeong was a terrible casting decision to play JJ’s boss, choosing to be neither intimidating nor funny. Two, everyone in the office somehow did not know that the mission was actually a failure (which points to the boss being a moron or everyone in that CIA branch being a moron). Three, JJ is suspended, despite his mission at least being partially successful, confusing the audience in the process.
After a couple minutes, we end up at the next briefing, where JJ is given one last chance – surveillance of Marquez’s ex-sister-in-law, Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), with his new partner/techie/fangirl, Bobbi (Kristen Schaal). This scene also did not make sense, although it’s possible I missed something David said during the briefing because the kid behind me sneezed on my neck. Yeah. That happened. Anyway, I doubt anything David said could have made it logical to surveil a woman who long stopped being associated with Marquez.
The main plot of the film kicks off at this point, which is Kate’s nine-year old daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman) discovering a hidden camera in a dog’s bouncy ball *face in my hands*, following the wifi signal until she discovers JJ and Bobbi’s hideout, and threatening to expose them with video she took of them at work unless they do what she wants them to do. I understand that this is the entire premise of the film and must be accepted in order for the film to work. I also understand that this is the point in which my wife exits stage right because that premise fails on all levels.
The tack this film should have taken is one similar to that of Kindergarten Cop. JJ and Bobbi should have been inserted into the building with cover stories and interacted with Kate to find out if Kate knew anything about Marquez or if there was any reason to believe he would even contact her. I’m even willing to accept the blown cover part, but would have changed it to JJ and Bobbi explaining to Sophie that they were watching Sophie and Kate to keep them safe from bad guys. Almost the entire movie could have been kept as is (minus the blackmail, that is) while maintaining the idea that a nine-year old is not smarter than CIA agents, thus making the film palatable to those of us that are, in fact, smarter than a third grader.
The movie really falls flat during the second act, where there is no action and the threat of a black market nuclear weapon is practically forgotten. During this time, we must endure Bobbi pouting over Sophie getting all of JJ’s attention, JJ training Chloe to be a spy, Chloe forcing JJ to hang out with her and her mom, including the predictable budding romance between JJ and Kate. On top of that is the worst scene in the entire film – JJ telling a roomful of Chloe’s classmates and their parents that he is a CIA agent for a living when he cannot come up with a plausible cover story (which the CIA absolutely would have given him) or even just say that he recently left the military after tours in Afghanistan. Even the sneezed-out germs on my neck winced at this scene.
The news is not all bad though. Once the film remembers that it is an action movie and brings Marquez back into the fray, it becomes somewhat entertaining. Despite a lot of the idiocy in the screenplay, there are some solid moments of comedy. It is also encouraging to see Bautista follow up Stuber with another solid lead performance role. Plus, the kids will love Chloe Coleman, who also delivers a good performance. Unfortunately, none of those things would be enough to overcome my wife’s pet peeve and I am not that forgiving. Now, I need to go wash my neck again.
Rating: Ask for nine dollars back and a sneeze guard.