The Spy Next Door
What It Is
By all appearances, Bob (Jackie Chan) lives a dull life as a pen importer. Little do the kids next door—Farren (Madeline Carroll), Ian (Will Shadley), and four-year-old Nora (Alina Foley)—know that he is in fact a superspy from China, on loan to the CIA. Because they think he’s a “nerd,” the children are unhappy that he’s dating their mom, Gillian (Amber Valetta), and quite horrified when the topic of marriage comes up. Conveniently, so does Gillian’s father’s illness, which means she has to leave her brood in Bob’s care for a few days. He promises her that he’ll convince the children to like him, while they plot ways to humiliate him and convince him to give up on their mother.
In case you haven’t seen The Pacifier, which this film resembles more than a little bit, Bob’s most recent case affects his life with the kids. They’re actually impressed that he’s a super-martial artist equipped with powerful weapons and the latest spy gizmos, demonstrated in a series of action scenes where he fights off a couple of broadly drawn Russian villains, thick-necked goons, and a even a mole inside the CIA. Needless to say, Gillian is upset to learn that he’s been lying to her, and so everyone has to learn some lessons about honesty, trust, and role modeling, as well as adult responsibility—which no one seems quite able to manage, even by film’s end.
Why It’s Fun
Like Jackie Chan’s other movies, this one features some rough-and-tumble martial arts sequences. Unlike the other movies, the scenes here are choreographed and cut so Chan doesn’t have to perform a lot of dangerous stunts. This makes sense, because he’s getting old, but it does make you nostalgic for his glory days, when he was fast and funny and daring. He may still be all that, but this new movie is predictable and poorly constructed, with precious little fun to be had anywhere.
Who’s Going To Love It
Younger viewers might get a kick out of the Home-Alone-style pranks the children pull on Bob. But only a very small number will be entertained by Bob’s ridiculous enemies, the Cold-War-ish Russian couple Poldark (Magnús Scheving) and Creel (Katherine Boecher), whose cartoony accents and silly costumes make them seem like Boris and Natasha without the irony, or his only slightly less ridiculous friends. Bob’s partner at the CIA, Colt (Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley’s dad, looking very beleaguered), pops up whenever Bob needs some high tech equipment or the plot needs a bump. And their boss, Glaze (George Lopez), has little to do but make spy-duty assignments and wave the occasional gun.
It’s troubling as well that the children are so on their own—even when their mother, who is a painter, is around. When she’s not driving them to school, she seems to be either holed up in her studio or on dates with Bob, so you can sort of see why the children are feeling anxious and disappointed. Inevitably, Ian and Bob bond over their mutual nerdiness, and even Farren melts when she finds out Bob grew up in an orphanage. But if Bob can have actual conversations with the older children, he has a completely unconvincing relationship with Nora, for whom he performs all kinds of secret stunts (getting her cat off the roof, for instance, or tracking her down when she’s gotten lost in a mall due to his not watching her).
What To Be Aware Of
For a movie expressly aimed at kids, The Spy Next Door is awfully fond of adult-asides. Some are throwbacky jokes, about Poldark’s goofy costumes or Creel’s outrageously “sexy” high heels, tight clothes, and eagerness to kill people. The most daunting of these involves Ian: not only does this 10-year-old surf the net seemingly at will—looking for bootleg rock concerts by David Bowie and death metal bands—but he also watches a party at the Playboy Mansion on pay-per-view, claiming that the high-def made him feel like he “was there.” (Eww.)
Ian and his sister are typically too clever for their own good, not to mention sulky and reckless. She misses her real dad and he’s so angry that he’s smarter than all his classmates that he pretends to be dumb. Nora presents another problem: not only does she only wear pink (certainly not unusual for a girl her age), but she turns pouty and whiny when shopping for a princess costume for Halloween (her wandering off might be cause for alarm in another movie, but here it’s only an occasion for Jackie Chan to leap and over mall escalators and soar on bunting). The action scenes are cartoony, but one assault—involving a Russian spy posing as a college student who flirts audaciously with 13-year-old Farren—includes knives and smashed furniture: the kids seem unworried, but in real life it would be a very scary scene.
2 out of 10
The Spy Next Door
Director: Brian Levant
Cast: Jackie Chan, George Lopez, Billy Ray Cyrus, Amber Valletta
US Premiere: January 15, 2010