My Spy parents guide

My Spy Parent Guide

Pointless violence used for entertainment purposes and some horrendously bad stereotypes make it easy to give this movie a miss.

Overall C-

CIA Agent JJ Cena is trained and dangerous, but when he is caught investigating a family by their tenacious 9-year-old daughter, he has two choices: teach her how to be a spy, or be outed to the world as a spy himself.

Release date March 13, 2020

Violence D
Sexual Content A-
Profanity C+
Substance Use B-

Why is My Spy rated PG-13? The MPAA rated My Spy PG-13 for action/violence and language.

Run Time: 102 minutes

Parent Movie Review

JJ Cena, played by Dave Bautista, is a special ops vet and a CIA agent who has just bungled a major operation near Chernobyl. As punishment, he’s banished to Chicago to conduct surveillance on Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) and her young daughter, Sophie (Chloe Coleman). Kate’s late husband, David Marquez, was murdered by his criminal mastermind brother, Victor (Greg Bryk) one year ago. Before his death, David hid plans for a nuclear device and Victor is now searching the world to find them. It’s JJ’s job to find out if Kate was involved with her husband’s criminal activities and if she knows where the plans are. Only one thing stands in the way of JJ’s successful completion of the mission – and she’s a curly-haired nine year old girl with impressive ability to manipulate adults. When Sophie finds one of JJ’s cameras, she tracks him down and threatens him: he can either teach her to be a spy, or she will blow his cover.

As I sat through all 99 minutes of this movie, I kept wondering who its target audience was supposed to be. Movies about children are usually geared at kids: teenagers aren’t interested in watching little tykes on the big screen. But My Spy is rated PG-13, which accurately reflects the violence and profanity in the movie. This is the movie’s conundrum: it’s too violent for kids but too boring and predictable for teens. And I can guarantee it’s too dumb for adults.

My Spy has so many flaws that it’s hard to narrow them down, but I’ll give it a shot. The biggest issue with this movie is the aforementioned violence. I recognize that any spy movie is likely to have moments of peril, suspense, and plot related violence. My Spy jacks it up a notch and serves up a steady diet of glamorized, pointless violence. There are frequent fistfights and gunfights, some set to music and some treated as comedy. One of the most disturbing moments is when Sophie and JJ discuss the witty one-liners he could use when he captures or kills “human garbage” (his term for terrorists). It gets worse when the villain is dispatched, and Sophie coldly delivers her own one liner at his death. To underline the movie’s lack of concern with violence, JJ then throws a grenade into a pool of leaking aircraft fuel simply to provide a fun explosion. This is a movie that does not take the cost of violence seriously.

Unfortunately, My Spy doesn’t take children’s safety seriously either. One of the training exercises JJ gives Sophie is to walk into a building and talk her way on to any apartment’s balcony in under 10 minutes. Parents who have spent years teaching their kids not to talk to strangers or go into a house with someone they don’t know are going to be horrified when an adult deliberately imperils a child’s safety in order to protect his own career.

And, if that’s not bad enough, don’t even get me started with the casual sexism in this film. JJ’s tech support partner, a hero-worshipping nerd named Bobbi (Kristen Schaal), is repeatedly demeaned by the agent, and after one insulting exchange, he casually asks if she’s made dinner. Because why else would you have a woman around if not to cook and care for you? The film then leans even harder into stereotyping with two gay men in a neighboring apartment (Devere Rogers and Noah Dalton Danby). In a squirm-worthy scene, the two men assess JJ’s fashion sense and give him a complete style makeover before he goes on a date. After all, aren’t all gay men supposed to be fashionistas?

When Chloe demands that JJ teach her to become a spy, JJ tells her that “Spycraft needs finesse, nuance, and emotional intelligence.” So do movies about espionage and, sadly, this poorly written, woodenly acted production is batting zero for three.

Directed by Peter Segal. Starring Dave Bautista, Kristen Schaal, and Parisa Fitz-Henley. Running time: 102 minutes. Theatrical release March 13, 2020. Updated

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My Spy
Rating & Content Info

Why is My Spy rated PG-13? My Spy is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for action/violence and language.

Violence:   There are multiple gunfights in the movie, some played in slow motion with music to glamorize them. There are several fights involving punching, kicking, and throwing. There are multiple explosions in the movie: in one scene, a main character throws grenades in an inhabited apartment building. People fire weapons at each other while driving. Cars crash in a couple of scenes. A girl is mildly bullied by classmates. A character sees blood on a mattress. A main character throws a knife near a woman’s hand because she is annoying him. A character accidentally throws a knife into someone’s leg and then vomits. A main character suggests killing a child but then says he’s joking. He also “jokes” about blowing up an apartment building. An adult character deliberately trips children at a skating rink in retaliation for bullying behavior. A woman knees a man in the groin; there are later jokes made about his genitals. A character reminisces about being in Afghanistan and bashing lizards’ heads in so they could be eaten. A man shakes a tree to make boys fall out of its branches. A man mentions getting shot. A man pushes another man against a wall and holds a gun on him. A large bird swoops down and makes off with a small bird. Men point guns at a family. An automatic weapon is dropped and sprays gunfire through an adjoining room; no one is hurt. A child is taken hostage and forced on to an airplane. There are scenes of reckless driving, including one where a character drives on a sidewalk and later knocks over a motorcycle. A character throws a grenade into a fuel like to cause an explosion for entertainment.
Sexual Content:   Gay neighbors are treated as stereotypical characters, gushing and obsessing over fashion.
Profanity: There are approximately 30 profanities in this movie, including 10 terms of deity, seven anatomical terms, two scatological curses, and 11 minor swear words.
Alcohol / Drug Use:   Main characters drink wine with dinner.

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My Spy Parents' Guide

This movie treats violence as entertainment. Do you think it’s funny when people are punched or shot? Why do you think movies don’t show the real costs of violence? What would this movie look like if the real costs of the violence were visible, for example, if we could see the families of everyone who dies in the movie?

Loved this movie? Try these books…

Older kids and younger teens will enjoy Anthony Horowitz’s Stormbreaker, in which teenage MI6 agent Alex Rider begins his adventures by facing off against Herod Sayle, a tech genius with a grudge against England.

Dan Gutman has written a series of spy novels for middle-school readers. The first, entitled The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable features siblings Coke and Pepsi McDonald as they escape villains from the Pez museum.

Stuart Gibbs’ Spy School tells the story of a nerdy middle schooler who dreams of working for the CIA. When he’s recruited for a special magnet school, he learns that the school is actually an academy for the CIA to train teen agents.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead introduces readers to Georges and his neighbor and fellow investigator, Safer. The two boys form a spy club and determine to track Mr. X, an upstairs neighbor.

Home Video

Related home video titles:

Spies in Disguise gives espionage a comic twist when a famous spy is accidentally turned into a pigeon.

Kids follow in the footsteps of their parents in the Spy Kids movie franchise. The first film is followed by Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, and Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World.

The CIA launches a child spy ring in Agent Cody Banks and Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London.

A British teenager winds up working with MI5 in Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker.

Undercover operations go glamorous in Miss Congeniality, in which an FBI agent masquerades as a Miss America contestant in an effort to capture a terrorist.

If you’re interested in spy movies that will appeal to teens and adults, try Mission Impossible. It’s got multiple sequels if you enjoy the first one.