My Spy (12A)***

Dir: Peter Segal

With: Dave Bautista, Kristen Schaal, Chloe Coleman

Runtime: 99 mins)

As noted on these pages a few months back, it is the inevitable lot of every hulking action star to one day appear alongside children in a family comedy, a lineage stretching from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Dwayne Johnson and beyond.

It presumably means they’ve achieved a certain success and brand name which can be carried beyond their comfort zone, and Dave Bautista has certainly done that in several Marvel movies, although last year’s Stuber wasn’t exactly a breakout smash.

Still, here he is paying his dues in My Spy, a likeable entry in the tough guy meets precocious kid subgenre, where he plays JJ, a CIA spy whom we first meet busting an arms deal in Chernobyl. His way of doing business is the shoot first, ask questions later variety, which leads to his boss telling him the killing is too much and that he’s being put on low profile stakeout duty.

This sends him to Chicago to put the widow of the brother of the guy they’re after under surveillance from the apartment down the hall. What wasn’t reckoned with was the woman’s daughter, Sophie (Coleman), who turns out to be much smarter than JJ, busts him mid-spy and blackmails him to hang out with her.

The danger faced with My Spy was that it could have been a nonsensical partnering of JJ and Sophie actually taking part in a mission, but mercifully it’s mostly ice skating and cooking. There’s a lot of ‘80s classic Stakeout as JJ befriends his targets after a shaky setup populated by some nicely done scenes and some pointless ones. It can feel tonally odd at times, the kiddie slapstick alongside what appears to be a straightforward spy movie playing out from time to time in Paris and Berlin, before we get back to eating ice cream.

Bautista a natural comic presence, Coleman is not remotely annoying, and together they’re a very watchable team. A midsection of them just hanging out is amiable, with a nice running joke of JJ wanting to kill everyone to cover up his mistakes. Inevitably the spy game has to come back into it and Sophie has to get involved, playing out very much as you might expect but with a few laughs along the way, to emerge as perfectly agreeable.