JJ is a former Army Ranger turned CIA operative with a finely honed set of skills. You set him loose with enough fire power, and he can systematically take out a small army of adversaries all on his own, leaving a given area charred and smoking.
If, on the other hand, you send him undercover with the goal of finessing information out of someone, well, that he’s not so good at. In fact, if you’re relying on his people skills in any way, you’d better simply duck and wait for things to start blowing up.
And that tendency has now landed JJ in a rather demeaning assignment. After his last field work went kablooey, he was given one final chance to retain his job. All he has to do is keep tabs from afar on a woman and her young daughter. That’s it. There’s something big going on involving a nuclear bomb, and this mom, Kate, and her 9-year-old, Sophie, likely have absolutely nothing to do with it. But since Kate has some family ties to the terrorists involved, she simply needs to be watched.
Easy. Just watch and report anything remotely suspicious.
As if this assignment wasn’t simplistic enough, JJ is also forced to work with a mousy tech named Bobbi who’s never even been in the field before. In fact, they’ve got to move into the same building as Kate and her kid, Set up cameras in the target’s apartment, and watch as an innocent family does absolutely nothing. Ugh! It’s enough to drive the action-oriented JJ completely bonkers.
What JJ and Bobbi don’t count on is the fact that little Sophie is, well, naturally more gifted at their jobs than they are. Not only does she spot their cameras, track JJ back to his apartment and see through his and Bobbi’s assumed identities, she manipulates them into doing exactly what she wants them to do.
So if JJ and Bobbi don’t want Sophie to blow their cover—and almost certainly get them both fired—JJ is going to have to teach her how to be a spy. That’s because one thing Sophie isn’t so good at is negotiating the obstacles of middle school. So some spy savvy, and maybe a big hulking escort, could certainly come in handy.
JJ agrees, but he’s pretty sure this probably isn’t going to end well. He’d better take a couple hand grenades along … just in case.
JJ is the sort of guy who purposely remains a loner, thinking that the violence of his job requires a kind of semi-permanent emotional distance from others. But while spending time with Kate and Sophie, JJ sees a different side of life and of himself. And that ultimately makes him a better person. In the end, he even starts thinking that he could be an OK father, and that perhaps JJ, Kate and Sophie might one day be a family.
Someone proclaims, “I’m not God!”
Kate has gay neighbors living next door, one of whom exhibits some stereotypical effeminate mannerisms. That individual comments about JJ’s physique and lack of “manscaping.” Sophie calls Bobbi, JJ’s “lesbian” friend.
JJ goes to a school parents’ day with Sophie and several women coo over his rippling physique. “Can we see the scars?” one mom asks as JJ is talking about past battles. And Sophie’s teacher purringly gives him her phone number.
JJ and Kate kiss.
Most of the deadliness here is relatively bloodless, but there are a lot of people dying in this supposed kids’ pic. The opening scene is packed with gunfire and explosions as JJ single-handedly takes out 20 or so men, blows up vehicles and demolishes an abandoned building. We even see someone’s decapitated head fly by in the explosions (which is played for laughs). A car chase involves crashing vehicles. And a plane crashes as well, leaving Sophie on the edge of a cliff and in perilous danger. A wrecked fuel truck also erupts into a massive explosion.
There are more up close and visceral scenes in the mix too as someone is stabbed in the stomach, a living room is riddled with automatic gunfire, men are shot down and a couple men are executed (just off camera).
While practicing a knife throw, Bobbi tosses a blade into someone’s leg and then promptly vomits. JJ gets thumped around repeatedly—from falling heavily on ice, to being beaten and pistol whipped by a thug, to being kneed in the crotch.
JJ also tells a story of men dying brutally. And when he first encounters Sophie, his first reaction is to somehow kill her and cover up the murder to protect his cover and identity. Thankfully, he’s talked out of that plan,
A wounded pigeon is snatched up by a hawk.
The film features a mouthed but unspoken f-word, a spelled out “WTF” and three or four s-words. Along with that, there are 10 uses of “h—,” and a handful of uses each of “d–n,” “d–k,” “a–” and “b–ch.” God’s name is misused four times and Jesus name twice.
Kate and JJ drink wine with dinner.
The movie paints Sophie’s middle school as a fairly nasty place. Kids on all sides tease, torment and physically bully her. Even JJ ends up accidentally causing another girl to cry with the rude things he says.
Someone talks about peeing.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Dwayne Johnson, John Cena, Vin Diesel—they have all suffered through it. And now former pro wrestler Dave Bautista (of Guardians of the Galaxy fame) is taking his turn. He’s yet another heavily muscled action-hero type to slip into the lead of a goofy kids’ movie and get thumped around in laughable ways.
My Spy isn’t apt to surprise you much—at least in terms of the plot. It generally sticks to the formula and gives its big flexing lead plenty of absurd situations where he can look fish-out-of-water awkward, along with several scenes where he can muscle through and win the day. Kid sidekick Sophie has plenty of sass and a nicely timed delivery of her snark. There’s a dash of romance, a splash of danger and explosions, and some funny bits. The good guys win, the kid makes friends. It’s all pretty typical stuff.
That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s all good stuff.
In this pic’s case, there’s more nasty language leaking out around the edges than one might expect in a movie that’s aimed at a family audience. And characters unnecessarily vocalize innuendo being talked about. And a few just-offscreen, bullet-to-the-forehead moments that can feel harsh. Things are a little too rough-edged for tykes, then, and a little too rewarmed for everybody else.
Of course, that kind of content doesn’t make this movie atypical of today’s “family film” crop. It just makes a potentially cute film less watchable for the very families who seemed to be this flick’s obvious target audience.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.