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Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Spy Next Door

Title: The Spy Next Door

Year of Release: 2010

Date Viewed: June 8th, 2010

MPAA Rating: PG

Riddle me this: What do all these actors have in common?

Steve Coogan
Lee Evans
Jennifer Love Hewitt
Owen Wilson
George Lopez
Billy Ray Cyrus

Answer: All have co-starred with Jackie Chan in his various American film projects. For whatever reason, directors in the western hemisphere do not seem to have enough faith in Chan to allow him to carry a movie on his own. To widen the target audience, he is often paired with someone who has a recognizable face in America yet is never in the same worldwide league as Chan. The last two names in the list join him in Chan's newest American-produced project titled The Spy Next Door; a cookie-cutter by-the-numbers effort and Chan's worst film since The Tuxedo.

To be fair, Lopez and Cyrus are not really at fault here. It's the result of formulaic screenwriting. The Pacifier, Mr. Nanny and The Game Plan all have used the "tough guy is stuck with kids and is now out of his element" plot and I think the fact that I liked Mr. Nanny better than this gives you an idea of what little originality and entertainment value can be found here.

The movie actually starts out with something really cool. A montage of sorts using footage of classic Chan films establishing his character's spy history along with a television style credits sequence and Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man" in the background. Talk about nostalgia!

Then reality hits and we're thrown into the movie. We meet Gillian (Amber Valletta), an average single mother of three children who lives next door to Bob (Jackie Chan), an international spy undercover as a pen salesman. How he managed to get anyone to believe his name and occupation is beyond me.

Gillian seems to enjoy being around Bob because he gives her a certain happiness that has been missing from her life since her recent divorce. Her kids however do not like him. Why that is I'm not sure. He's nice to their mother, always waves hello and has a funny accent. Kids love funny accents.

Bob's chance to win over their friendship comes when Gillian's out-of-town father becomes injured and she decides to visit him, leaving her kids in the temporary custody of Bob. As you'd imagine, it's a rough ride at first. But of course things start to get better after.......uh........after........uh.......

You know to tell you the truth, I'm not sure how the kids start to warm up to him. There wasn't anything in the plot that represented a convincing transition. It just sort of happened. I guess that was the whole strategy. Keep filming and hope that the audience goes along with it.

Bob's hopes of settling down and leaving behind his dangerous government work are denied thanks to Gillian's mischievous son who infiltrates Bob's computer and downloads what he thinks is a pirated copy of a rare concert. Instead he gets his hands on classified files that contain information on an evil plan by evil people to evaporate oil in an attempt to monopolize for themselves. In this day and age, I can't think of a faster way to get rich. When the evildoers find a way to track where the files have traveled, they launch an assassination attempt on Bob and threaten to expose his double-life to the unsuspecting Gillian.

See kids, let this be a lesson to you. Don't bootleg stuff. Bad guys might come after you for it.

Can Bob save the day and win the affection of his neighbors? Who are we kidding? Of course he does. This is a family movie. A better question is: Is The Spy Next Door worth your time and money? Unless you're a Jackie Chan completist like myself, do not bother. There is a severe lack of creativity here. Family films do not have to be cutting edge but they do not need to be graded on a curve either. This one didn't cut it for me.

Even the dependable Chan seems limited to what he does best; elaborate fight scenes made to look improvised. Sure, he's not as young or as fast as he used to be. He needs to slow down. I get that. Still, Chan is capable of doing better than this. It also doesn't help that his screen time is cut down to make room for things like Billy Ray Cyrus's character who comes on screen just long enough to remind audiences that he's in the movie before drifting back into the abyss of this hollow script. Moments like this support my belief that the film is not confident in itself. Both the main story and the backstory involving the villians are so ridiculous that the only saving grace of the movie had to be the fight scenes.

I always welcome the opportunity to watch bumbling bad guys get what's coming to them. That's what's offered in the film's climax. But these villains are so dumb and incompetent that they make Home Alone's Harry and Marv look like Heath Ledger's Joker. Since we can never take them as a real threat, the climatic fight scene (which is actually pretty decent) is not given the proper amount of excitement yet could be fun enough depending on how much you enjoy seeing improvised weapons. So yes, I didn't completely hate the film. I just have too much frustration to give it any sort of recommendation.

Chan has such a creative mind that I'm certain if this idea was presented to him during his 1980s prime with the full support of a Hong Kong studio under his wing, he could have made something great. Unfortunately this is 2010 Hollywood and we're instead stuck with mediocrity.

Rating: 4

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