The Spy Next Door


Jackie Chan's lost his nunchuks.

Jackie Chan’s lost his nunchuks.

(2010) Spy Action Comedy (Lionsgate) Jackie Chan, Amber Valletta, Madeline Carroll, Will Shadley, Alina Foley, Magnus Scheving, Billy Ray Cyrus, George Lopez, Katherine Boecher, Mia Stallard, Maverick McWilliams, Quinn Mason, Margaret Murphy, Esodie Geiger, Arron Shiver, Lucas Till, Richard Christie, Kayleigh Burgess. Directed by Brian Levant

How many times have we seen this one – a divorced/widowed single dad/mom starts dating a new guy/gal who has special skills – i.e. a Navy Seal, a martial artist, a superspy. The kids are suspicious/hostile towards the new boyfriend/girlfriend and find many ways to discourage them from dating their parent/break up the relationship. For whatever contrived reason the boyfriend/girlfriend is left alone with the kids who stumble into/are caught in the middle of a dangerous situation. The boyfriend/girlfriend must rescue the kids/keep them safe and eventually they join forces to defeat the bad guy/girl.

This is pretty much the plot of this kid-centric spy. Bob Ho (Chan) is the boyfriend, a boring pen salesman who is really a Chinese spy working for the American government (which is a stretch of disbelief right there). He has recently defeated a Russian baddie (Scheving) who had developed a virus that breaks down petroleum. He intended to infect the world with it, forcing everyone to buy Russian petroleum at ludicrous prices. Why Paul Ryan didn’t think of this I’ll never know.

Anywho, the baddie is broken out by a kind of living Natasha Fatale named Creel (Boecher) and he’s keen to get the formula back and finish the job. The formula is tucked away safely on Bob’s laptop. Of course, the first rule of kidflicks is that one of the three kids (and there are always three) has to be a computer genius. Ian (Shadley), the middle kid, fits this bill. By the way, the other two kids are always an angst-y teen or pre-teen rebelling against everything and pissed off at everyone (Carroll) and a cute as a button princess (Foley). It is with this motley crew that Bob is left when his main squeeze – er, girlfriend – Gillian (Valletta) is called away on a family emergency.

Chan is getting on in years, as we all must but even at 55 (which is how old he was when he filmed this) he is still as entertaining an action hero as there has ever been. His comic timing is priceless, his physical gifts extraordinary. If he’s lost a step or two, and if he relies more on wires than jaw-dropping stunts, well, he’s earned the right. He’s done plenty of spy flicks in his native Hong Kong but the two Hollywood versions he’s done don’t hold a candle to them despite having much larger budgets.

Unfortunately, the buck pretty much stops there. The kids are more or less atrocious with the usually reliable Carroll playing surly, spoiled and bitchy which simply renders her character unwatchable. Carroll would  do much better work in pictures that followed this, particularly in Flipped. Valletta who’s also a decent actress has zero chemistry with Chan; one gets the feeling that they’re just friends without benefits; I can’t imagine the two of them sharing more than a chaste kiss on the cheek. Then again, this is a family film. Lopez and Cyrus as CIA buddies of Bob at least show up on time.

One of my big pet peeves is kid movies that treats kids like absolute morons. I get that playing to the kid fantasy of being in charge is a safe bet but even kids know that adults aren’t bumbling idiots from beginning to end and kid flicks generally portray them that way (moms are the sole exception and for good reason; piss off a mom and her brood won’t be seeing your movie). Nearly as high on the list is Hollywood’s complete fumbling of Chan. One of the great action heroes ever and basically was cast  either in buddy flicks or in hack job kidflicks. It’s like making an Avengers movie with the Hulk and having him stay as Bruce Banner the entire time. No wonder Chan grew disillusioned with Hollywood. I would too.

WHY RENT THIS: Jackie Chan.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Everything else.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some cartoon spy flick violence and a bit of rude humor that will delight the average six year old but might have their parents rolling their eyes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The opening montage is made up mostly of Chan’s Hong Kong-made spy movies.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Chan’s films traditionally show a gag reel of outtakes and pranks over the end credits; if you want to see it without the distraction of the credits, it’s here.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $45.2M on a $28M production budget; the movie was just shy of making back it’s investment during the theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Pacifier

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Stories We Tell

New Releases for the Week of January 15, 2010


The Book of Eli

In the future, rigatoni will become humongous and world hunger will be solved.

THE BOOK OF ELI

(Warner Brothers) Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Tom Waits, Michael Gambon. Directed by Allen & Albert Hughes

A lone man wanders the desert, hard eyes squinting in the soul-baking sun. He speaks only when he needs to and even then with an impressive economy of words. Nobody knows his name; nobody wants to for everywhere he goes he brings death with him. What nobody understands is that he also holds the key to redemption in the form of a mysterious book. No, we’re not talking Clint Eastwood in the Wild West here; it’s Denzel in the post-apocalyptic future. Denzel may be a high plains drifter, he may even be dirty and hairy but what he’s not is good, bad and ugly. Well, two out of three anyway.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for some brutal violence and language)

A Single Man

(Weinstein) Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Ginnifer Goodwin. A British college professor living in the Los Angeles of the early 1960s must come to terms with the sudden and unexpected death of his romantic partner. As being out of the closet was impossible in that era as the closet door had been nailed shut and then the door set ablaze, he struggles to find meaning in a life that has lost it. He begins to find some kindred spirits, some unexpected as he learns about the frailty of the human condition and in particular of the human heart. Firth’s performance is widely being proclaimed a leading Oscar contender this year.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for some disturbing images and nudity/sexual content)

The Lovely Bones

(DreamWorks) Soairse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Rachel Weisz. You would think that once you die, your troubles are over. When 14-year-old Susie Salmon is murdered, she thinks so at first as well, going to a world that is wondrous and beautiful. However, she is haunted by her killer and concerned for the well-being of her family and must weigh her desire for vengeance against her need to help her family begin to heal. Peter Jackson directs from the acclaimed Alice Sebold best-seller.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language)

The Spy Next Door

(Lionsgate) Jackie Chan, Madeline Carroll, Amber Valletta, George Lopez. When an undercover superspy from the CIA (by way of Hong Kong) decides to hang up his silencer for good to settle down with his girlfriend, he finds winning over her three children a more difficult task than smuggling plutonium out of Chernobyl. However when one of those children inadvertently downloads a top secret formula from the spy’s computer, it draws the wrong kind of attention and Bob Ho (thanks for the memories dude) the spy finds not only must he win over her kids, he has to save their lives as well (the next sound you’ll hear is Vin Diesel mock sneezing “RIPOFF!” into a clenched fist).

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for sequences of action violence and some mild rude humor)