The Spy Next Door Brian Levant

The Spy Next Door Brian Levant
It's easy to see why Jackie Chan might choose to ally himself with a project as transparently shoddy as The Spy Next Door. Always more businessman than artist, Chan clearly wants to maintain a presence in the American film market, and I suppose there aren't too many scripts on these shores for a 56-year-old Chinese action star to choose from. Yet for someone who once so deftly managed his brand on a global level, carefully tailoring his screen and public personas for whichever market he was pursuing, it has been strange to watch Chan struggle so awkwardly to come to terms with his advancing age over the last decade. One can almost admire the chutzpah The Spy Next Door shows by opening with a montage of stunts from Chan's 1991 film Armour of God II: Operation Condor. Ostensibly highlights from the career of retiring CIA agent Bob Ho, this sequence feels more like an upfront acknowledgment that the star's best days are indeed behind him. That Chan can't do the stunts anymore isn't a big deal; what's really sad is that, under the leaden direction of Are We There Yet? auteur Brian Levant, the cheeky, Chaplin-esque man from Police Story has here been reduced to a doddering Asian stereotype. The set-up: Bob is leaving the CIA to marry his next-door neighbour (Amber Valletta). When she needs to visit her ailing father for a few days, Bob volunteers to baby-sit her three gratingly adorable children, leading to all manner of aggressively zany mishaps. Meanwhile, several Russian villains (yes, Russian villains) are on Bob's trail to recover a top-secret document and, before you know it, the unbelievably lame slapstick is alternating with limp action. Levant and Chan no doubt hoped to ape films like Kindergarten Cop and The Pacifier, which relied on the comic tension between tough-guy action heroes and wimpy activities, but since Chan has never been a conventional "tough guy," seeing him fall ass-backwards while carrying garbage and then rise with a clump of spaghetti in his hair is just sad and pathetic. For years, even in films as god-awful as The Tuxedo or The Medallion, we could always depend on charming, death-defying Jackie to hold up his end of the bargain, but in The Spy Next Door, hearing Chan fumble one-liners he's obviously learned phonetically while struggling to generate any chemistry whatsoever with Valletta leads to a depressing realization: Jackie Chan is being out-acted by Billy Ray Cyrus. DVD extras include two short documentaries and a blooper reel almost identical to the one that plays during the end credits. Spoiler: Chan flubs his English dialogue. A lot. (Maple)