Published Jan 14, 2010It doesn't appear to take much for a Jackie Chan movie to work for his core demographic: he jumps around, kicks people, uses props in elaborate ways and tosses out a one-liner in broken English with an unsuitable expression that screams, "I have no idea what I'm saying." This isn't an overly complex formula; however, writers James Greer and Jonathan Bernstein (Just My Luck, Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector) and director Bryan Levant (Problem Child 2, Beethoven) manage to screw it up.
Delving into Family Channel territory, The Spy Next Door finds Bob Ho (Chan) living in suburbia, posing as a pen manufacturer while working secretly for the C.I.A., on loan from the Chinese Central Intelligence. When not searching for Russian chemical formulas for oil consumption, Bob struggles to win the affection of his girlfriend/neighbour's children, who think he's a corporate drone, something most eight-year olds notice and reflect on?
In an effort to explain the hyper-surreal coupling of Jackie Chan and Amber Valetta, some exposition plays to the tune of, "I'm looking for someone reliable," while kids manage to download government intelligence and fawn over David Bowie bootleg concerts (what?). None of it makes a great deal of sense, which is only exacerbated by the lack of directorial panache surrounding the handling of small children, whose inappropriate, cutesy faces make them seem like they might be missing chromosomes, especially the youngest.
Perhaps the biggest misstep here is that there is very little on the fighting front, with Chan essentially doing his best Mr. Nanny with unlikable children while attempting to act. Since his performance capabilities don't stretch far beyond that of stumbling over words while smiling blankly, the audience is left with little more than negative Russian stereotypes and a forced message of anti-piracy.
On the positive front, there is a single scene where the gang of criminals wander into suburbia, sticking out like a sore thumb, and steal candy from a small child like cartoon villains. If the entire movie maintained this campy tone, it might have been worth checking out. (Alliance)