Hollywood was built on formulas and comedies, slapstick comedies, boy meets rich girl, slips on a banana peel and falls in love with a poor but sweeter girl.

That’s how we survived the Great Depression and even today, the young guns are studying those formulas and making them work.

And here’s a winning one for you to collect. “My Spy,” an outrageously corny plot, a magic soup with winning ingredients: danger, a couple of shoot outs, a car chase, a tough guy with a comic partner, a little girl, a pretty woman and a dog. Don’t forget the dog.

There’s always a dog.

Take one giant of a man, scarred and tattooed, a mix breed of indeterminate proportions, a brute with a winning mixture: Jack Palance’s eyes, The Rock’s body and the tender sweetness of John Legend. Stir well and serve hot.

Damon Runyon stuff. Cinema chefs Director Peter Segal and his top writers Erich and Jon Hoeber appear to have been weaned on the formula, and serve it well.

Segal gives us JJ, (Dave Bautista) a former wrestler, knee-breaker and all around CIA case worker. He winces, stutters, eats lots of candy and loves old movies. Be prepared to fall in love with Dave Bautista.

JJ opens the film working undercover in a warehouse filled with nuclear toys and KGB thugs. When his comic attempt at a Russian accent loses its charm, he’s surrounded by bad guys from six different countries, all pointing their guns at him.

As James Cagney used to say, “The jig is up.”

Not for JJ. With swift moves and an operatic score blasting, lots of movie luck and great camera work, JJ survives. But, Marquez, the baddest of the bad (Greg Bryk) escapes with the important nuclear toy in what looks like a iPhone case. Keep your eyes on it.

Back at home base, JJ’s boss David Kim, (comic Ken Jeong) tired of his big guy’s“kill all the bad guys” antics, takes him down a peg, and puts him on a low rung surveillance assignment.

JJ finds himself in an apartment building in Chicago, with elaborate computer equipment and the standard comic side kick Bobbi (the gifted/writer comic Kristen Schaal) assigned to spy on Marquez’s wife Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) and little girl Sophie (a remarkable Chloe Coleman).

The list of tenants include two gay men with secrets and guns of their own.

The primary ingredient of this kind of soup are the complications, and they come in buckets.

We know that JJ and Sophie will fall in love about a week before JJ falls in love with Sophie’s mom.

Highlights?

1. Sophie blackmails JJ into giving her on-the-run spy tutorials, learning how to trick the lie detector.

2. Sophie brings him to school for share-a-friend day. JJ tells the truth, and nobody believes him.

3. The kidnapping of Sophie by her father.

4. The airplane downed on the edge of a cliff, with Sophie risking all to save the nuclear device.

Is it all predicable? Yes. Is it corny? Yes.

Is the ending scene wonderful? Absolutely.

What saves “My Spy” from sitcomeville is the chemistry between Bautista and Coleman, and the future for both, should there be a future for movies, is bright.

“My Spy” is THE picture we all need at this moment. May there be many more. Tape it and keep it. You’ll need it.

 

J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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