Bob Ho (Jackie Chan) is a Chinese espionage agent on loan to the CIA. To keep his cover intact, he lives in a nice, quite little community and has a budding romance with pretty neighbor, Gillian (Amber Valletta). However, her three children do not like the man who may replace their abandoning father and it is up to Bob to turn things around in “The Spy Next Door.”
Jackie Chan is always a pleasure to watch with his likable mug and, at 55-years old, still spectacular martial arts moves. The light-hearted adventure yarn that is “The Spy Next Door” is no exception. Sure, it is kids’ fare, but fans of the comic actor, and there are a lot of us out there, will have a treat. In addition, it may spawn a new generation of faithful followers of Jackie.
Things start out with a typical “Man from Uncle” opening with Bob and the CIA team battling bad guys and making the world safe. On the home front, though, is a relationship Gillian, who likes Bob a lot but is concerned that her kids, teen age Farren (Madeline Carroll, “Swing Vote), Ian (Will Shadley) and little Nora (Alina) Foley, accept her new beau. Farren, in particular, resents Bob’s presence, knowing in her heart that her father will return and they will be a family again – sans Bob Ho. She leads her siblings in a battle of wills as she tries her best to reject the suitor.
Bob gets his big chance to prove himself to the children when Gillian receives a phone call that her father is in the hospital. Frantic, she tries to get a babysitter but none is available on such short notice. Bob sees this as his way to win her kids over and volunteers to take care of the trio. Reluctantly, Gillian has little choice but to accept the offer, much against Farren’s entreaties. What follows are typical adult-wins-the-kids-over action with Bob endearing himself to, first, Nora, then to the older children.
But, hey, this is a spy movie, right? So, there has to be some cloak and dagger intrigue to justify the title and this is where “The Spy Next Door” has its fun. The bad guys, led by the evil and funny Poldark (Magnus Scheving), a Russian master criminal who can’t get his wardrobe right, thanks to his fashion unconscious henchmen, wants Bob’s blood. Unwillingly, when Poldark’s men come to his ‘hood to take him out, he must involve the kids in the spy hard action, putting them in danger. This does not sit well with Gillian and she demands he leave and never see them again.
The travails of the romance between Bob and Gillian, though, takes a back seat to the briskly paced action that, with Jackie still doing the moves (it looks like there is a stunt double sometimes used but Chan still has it), makes this a whole bunch of fun. The carefully choreographed fights and gunplay are a joy to watch, and not just for JC fans. Jackie is endearing as lovable, lethal Bob and his still-boyish charm is on full display. Amber Valletta has the tough role as the protective mom but does it well. Madeline Carroll starts off as a negative pill, always demeaning Bob, but, as the story develops, she shows the same ability as in “Swing Vote,” making Farren likable in the end. The other two, Will Shadley and Alina Foley, fill the bill as the youngsters. Magnus Scheving has fun as the nefarious Poldark. The rest of the cast fill out the background with humor and martial arts. George Lopez, as Bob’s boss at the Agency, only gets two-dimensional treatment.
Director Brian Levant, with a script by Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer and Gregory Poirier, wastes not time giving us what we want – Jackie kicking butt and taking names. The script has several things going on with its espionage intrigue, family angst and a plot to corner the market for the world’s oil supply. It is all done with fun in mind and the behind the camera techs are up to the task in capturing the copious action.
This may be aimed at older kids but that is not the only audience that will enjoy this funny action movie. I give it a B.
Chinese special ops agent Bob Ho (Jackie Chan, "Rush Hour," "The Forbidden Kingdom") is ready to retire while on loan to the CIA and begin a family life with his girlfriend Gillian ("Transporter 2" and "Gamer's" Amber Valletta, looking a lot like Kirsten Scott Thomas). There is one big problem, though - Gillian's three kids cannot stand Bob. When Gillian's father encounters health problems in another state and she must go to him, Bob suggests taking care of her kids so that they can get to know him and she reluctantly agrees. Little do any of them know, however, that Bob Ho is "The Spy Next Door."
There are many reasons to be wary of "The Spy Next Door," beginning with Brian Levant, director of "Snow Dogs" and "Are We There Yet?" paired with the screenwriting duo behind "Just My Luck" and "Bait Shop." Initially, those fears seem well warranted with trite situations, annoyingly bratty kids and production values out of a 1960's TV series. But the charm of Jackie Chan is a powerful thing and although it is clear he is no longer fully engaged in all his character's stunts, once he gets to throw down the 'man overwhelmed by domesticity' bit and pull on his spy persona, the film gets a breath of fresh air and cruises into an enjoyable last act.
Let's get the bad out of the way. Bob Ho is, of course, one day away from retirement when he's pulled back in when Gillian's son Ian (Will Shadley) downloads the wrong thing from his computer (Ian thinks he's getting a rare bootleg of a concert but he's actually downloaded the plans for some silly but nefarious scheme of bad guy Poldark (Magnús Scheving, who along with Katherine Boecher's Creel is like Boris Badanov with Irish coloring and a blond Natascha). Bob's first attempt at breakfast is an utter disaster and the kids treat him with contempt. Bed Bath & Beyond, perhaps the emperor of all product placement, is featured and Bob loses Gillian's youngest, Nora (Alina Foley, 2008's "Days of Our Lives"), in a sea of identically clad fairy princesses (Halloween is approaching). Madeline Carroll, a notable talent in her "Swing Vote" debut, is unrecognizable as sullen tweenie Farren. Bob's boss Glaze (George Lopez, "Swing Vote," TV's "George Lopez") turns out to be a turncoat.
But Bob doesn't wrestle with domesticity for more than a day. In fact, he utilizes his spy gadgets in new ways to handle his charges and once they realize Bob is a lot more than the pen salesman they think he is, they regard him in a new light and begin to develop personality. Furthermore, once compromized they need protection and Chan gets to go into action. By the time the kids are the ones getting mom to reconsider Bob as the best boyfriend ever, "The Spy Next Door" had won me over.
There's absolutely nothing original about the film nor does it reach for anything cinematic - this is filmmaking as product and nothing more. Still, the villains are goofily cartoonish and C&W star (and father of Miley) Billy Ray Cyrus is likeably laid back as Ho's colleague Colton. (In another degree of Cyrus separation, Lucas Till of "Hannah Montana: The Movie" plays Larry, a youthful henchman who tries to infiltrate via Farren.)
"The Spy Next Door" may sound like "Jackie Chan's The Pacifier," but Chan's irrepressible charm always makes bad films seem a whole lot better and he's mugged through worse dreck than this. Survive the first half and you may just enjoy yourself.
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