Movie Title: The Spy Next Door (2010)
The Spy Next Door stars Jackie Chan and Amber Villetta (“Paula” from The Family Man, 2000) in a James Bond-meets-Uncle Buck-meets-The Pacifier-style movie about Bob Ho, a Chinese spy on loan to the CIA, who wants to retire and become an ordinary family man. Ho (Chan) lives next door to Gillian (Villetta). The two want to take their relationship to the next level, if only her kids would permit it.
Bob brings down his last power-hungry dictator, and now it’s time to win over next door’s kids and settle down. Surely, it will be easier than bringing down the corrupt? Not so…especially not if the dictator you thought was down escapes prison and is coming back to get you and the family you want to settle down with. But the predictable challenge of a bad guy coming back for revenge isn’t the only challenge. Despite his training in 007-style weaponry, Ho can’t put out grease fires or even make oatmeal without mishaps.
The kids are a handful. There’s Farren (Madeline Carroll), Ian (Will Shadley), and Nora (Alina Foley). Farren is withdrawn, Ian is a chronic liar that bullies use for a punching bad, and Nora is the little one who gets lost in crowds as soon as you turn your head. But I say hats off to having kids that at least look like the next door neighbor’s kids.
There is something inherently cool about a film with the term “spy” in the title, or so you would think. But lest you worry about confusing The Spy Next Door with The Spy Who Loved Me, let me remind you that you won’t. This spy movie begins with a pig running across the house, the alarm clock “snooze” button being slapped down, kids dancing on their mothers bed near her head to wake her up, and kids that talk about cyborgs sent from the future to save humanity (like only kids in movies are taught to talk).
Let no cliché remain unturned. The bad guys give each other "high fives" when they are successful, kids complain about cats stuck on rooftops, and they don’t complain when the Russians charge into their backyards to fight them, and on many occasions, can outfight their much bigger Russian attackers.
Ho and his right-hand man, Colton James (Billy Ray Cyrus), are an odd team. Why the government needs to rent a Chinese Secret Service Agent is…puzzling…and Cyrus’ character Colton? Well, if anyone like him is running a country, that country is soon to go down the tubes. You play darts with Colton. You drive to the lake and bring your ice chest with Colton. You pound down brewskies at the local Honky Tonk hall with Colton, but you don’t share classified files with him.
Despite it all, The Spy Next Door was hard to fully dislike. The disarming likeableness of Jackie Chan is the life of any party. One Chan character is the same as any other, like our favorite Austrian Oak-turned-governor of California, Arnie. But it remains true that Chan was way cooler punching and kicking thugs to the accompanying sound of boards being slapped together in the 1970s and 80s than he is here.
Among the movie’s more disturbing scenes is one of Chan wrestling down a four-year-old Nora to put pants on her. If that’s not creepy enough, he puts the same girl to sleep in 30 seconds by singing a Chinese lullaby.
The bad guys are the Russians. Their leader, Poldark (Magnus Scheving, deduct one point for using one of the worst villain names ever), wants to destroy all the oil in the world (not resell it, just destroy it). He finds the formula for a chemical which makes that possible. His style-challenged goons look more like Americans posing as Russians than Russians, and in such a way as to stand out from any crowd they’re in. It appears that Russian mobsters don’t have a word for “mingle.” They also send 17-year-old recruits to America to do some of their dirty work.
If the free-flowing, fast-footed energy of Jackie Chan can't save this, how about George Lopez or Billy Ray Cyrus? Nobody can act, and nobody acts...like this, not the stars, and not the bullies at school. Well, Lopez can play a good bad guy. I’ll give him that. He has the adversarial personality for it.
The Spy Next Door is an endearing story wrapped in an awfully-packaged movie. It will take a very young audience to appreciate it even a little. The only thing the parents will appreciate is Ho using his secret agent gadgets to keep the kids from sneaking out and getting cans of soda from the kitchen into their bedrooms. But for the record, the best part of the movie is the opening credits where Chan is waxing cool to the tune of “Secret Agent Man,” that irresistible song by Steve Barri and P.F. Sloan, performed by Johnny Rivers.
Grade: D- (one star)
Rated: PG (for mild perilous situations)
Director: Brian Levant
Summary: Former CIA spy Bob Ho (Chan) takes on his toughest assignment to date--looking after his girlfriend's three kids.
Starring: Jackie Chan “Bob Ho,” Amber Valletta “Gillian,” Madeline Carroll “Farren,” Will Shadley “Ian,“ Alina Foley “Nora,” George Lopez "Glaze," Billy Ray Cyrus "Colton James," Catherine Boecher "Creel"
Genre: Action / Romance / Comedy