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 Farren is withdrawn, Ian is a chronic liar that bullies use for a punching bad, and Nora is the little one who gets lost in crowds as soon as you turn your head.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
Leap Year stars Amy Adams and Matthew Goode in a reaching romantic comedy that comes a day late and a dollar short of looking as good as the scenes we get of a pleasant Irish countryside. Jeremy (Adam Scott) is a cardiologist with a jam-packed schedule. Anna Brady (Adams) is a stager, someone who helps realtors sell houses by making them more presentable. Together, they deem themselves the couple made for each other, ready to live the life everyone wants to live.
But they aren’t quite the match made in heaven--and you knew that even before your eyes finished the previous sentence. There’s something missing in the relationship, something missing from one of their lives. Can you guess which one? Of course, you can. And if you've seen the trailer, you've seen the movie.
Jeremy is taking too long to ask her to marry him, and based on an old Irish tradition that goes back hundreds of years, which allows a woman to ask a man to marry her on a Leap Year, Anna gets it in her head to fly to Ireland where her boyfriend is on business and pop the question to him (you already know where this is heading). There, she meets Declan (Matthew Goode), an obstinate outspoken charmer not unlike herself.
That is all you need to know to see that Anna is yet another yawn-worthy creation of an attractive, tasteful, fashion-obsessed, smart chick who is still, in some small way, waiting to be swept off her feet by a ridiculously clichéd “knight in shining armor.” Anna very closely resembles Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fischer) from Confessions of a Shopaholic. Apparently, women the world over really do connect with this type of classy chick--always wanting to be surprised by their man while claiming not to like surprises.
Adams’ character may not be unique, but she and The Fabulously Fierce Fashionista would have much to talk about…so would all women. Ok, fine! Keep looking for your damn knight in shining armor, ladies! You’re not going to stop because I say so.
The problem is, Leap Year doesn’t generate that much good gab. It’s not novel, and it’s definitely not funny. The painfully improbable predicaments that Anna finds herself in are as set up as a mall kiosk. Declan and Anna are both brainy and headstrong, but neither know what they want. As in every robbed-by-time romance flick, they have to find it out by a sucky series of circumstances, and we have to watch as things crawl toward their inevitably contrived conclusion. As when at the dentist, that makes some of us gag. On the positive side, the film has one thing going for it--it’s admirable star leads.
An all-too-brief appearance by John Lithgow as Anna’s father at the film’s beginning is one of the high points (and proof that Lithgow - all by himself - can brighten up any set, no matter how bleak things look due to the writing). And things do look bleak for Leap Year. The cruddy slapstick and non-screen-friendly cast of supporting role performers take their toll as they follow a script that makes time go by like the dripping of molasses.
Delivering it from total value annihilation is a faint glimmer of touching grace. Buried deep beneath the surface lies some small hope. Goode and Adams can act and have a physical on-screen connection that staves off the downpour of a tsunami’s worth of plain writing and unoriginal source material. But be ye warned; braving the elements of a too long romance is a gamble to which you may or may not find a payoff! Despite the rains, the aquifer of emotional depth is not filled to capacity. Only hopeless romantics, please.
Grade: C- (2 stars)
Director: Anand Tucker
Summary: A woman prepares to propose to her boyfriend on a Leap Year in keeping with an Irish tradition.
Starring: Amy Adams “Anna Brady,” Matthew Goode “Declan,” Adam Scott “Jeremy,” John Lithgow “Jack Brady,” Noel O'Donovan “Seamus,” Tony Rohr “Frank,” Pat Laffan “Donal”
Genre: Romance / Comedy
Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone) has some very good friends. When his wife, Liz (Joanne Whalley), confesses that she’s done with the marriage and wants out, his loyal friends kidnap the “other” guy to help their friend feel better and have the opportunity for a most excruciating, skin-pealing revenge.
It has been said that if you have five good friends in your lifetime, then you should count yourself lucky because you are doing well. Colin has at least four good friends, but I still say he’s gosh-darn ahead of the most of us. Archie (Tom Wilkinson) is an honest man who seems normal enough. He cooks dinner and he spends a great deal of time with mom, or “Mum.” (Edna Doré).
Meredith (Ian McShane) is a man who can gamble, and he has tremendous class. He loves his men that way, too. And, he looks good going anywhere. Hal (Stephen Dillane), well, he’s a little harder to describe. He’s just a friend helping out another friend. You get the impression that he can be an annoying gnat of a human being some of the time, but he’s still a friend.
Old Man Peanut (John Hurt) is the most brazen character among them. You don’t want to get him riled up. He may wear dentures, but he can verbally bite. And with the exception of Liz, everyone in this misogynistic make of a movie can curse up a storm—with a cult-like love for that word that women just love to hear used to describe their feminine region, the “c” word.
The English are just as big on hard drinks and cigarettes as any, especially in grief. Colin and the gang are drinking down bottles of hooch. The main man does so with an apparent-but-not-actual disregard for the strength of the substance that is supposed to kill his pain. In the end, only one thing will kill his pain. He has his mind set on that.
Loverboy (Melvil Poupaud) has been kidnapped and taken to a somewhat run-down building, to some place you’d expect to see in a 70s presentation of an old-style, once-fancy pad in New York City. It’s a bad day for Colin, but an especially bad day awaits one good-looking kid who foolishly crossed into the city limits of Payback-opolis.
Today’s a big day for Loverboy. Today he will learn more than he cared to know about intimacy. It takes much less than love to “get you off,” but love itself is what can get you killed (or make you wish you were deader than dead). One of the most memorable lines in the film begins with Colin’s one-on-one interrogation: “I bet she’s never farted in front of you, has she? Has she? No. That’s not romantic.”
44 Inch Chest is a broadside description for this chesty and well-acted English drama with its carefully constructed conclaves of comedy that are just strong enough to lighten the mood without damaging the suspense. The brief moments with the disorienting quality of a late-1980s cologne commercial are not as much flaws as they are bonus additions in the name of comic relief.
The coming and going drop-offs of eerie music and the riveting moments of tension that give way to lighthearted humor give this 90+ minute film of anger, imagery, and dry English comedy an unexpected – if profane – appeal.
Grade: B+ (3 ½ stars) Recommended!
Rated: R (for violence and language)
Director: Malcomb Venville
Summary: A jealous husband and his friends kidnap his wife's lover and plot to extract revenge.
Starring: Ray Winstone “Colin Diamond,” John Hurt “Old Man Peanut,” Ian McShane “Meredith,” Tom Wilkinson “Archie,” Joanne Whalley “Liz,” Dave Legeno “Brighton Billy”
Looking back on 2009, one sees a very bland year. So much was not good. So much more was just ordinary at best.
On the stinker’s list are the following…
All About Steve (D-) An unlikably ditzy and undeserving romantic comedy that is fit for the dunghill.
Couples Retreat (D+) Wasn't quite as bad as it was made out to be by some, but you'll "retreat" from watching this soon enough!
Dragonball: Evolution (F) A miserable adaption of the corny Japanese Dragonball animated action show.
Gamer (F) Disgusting and repulsive to the core, Gamer doesn't play games when it comes to making you regret watching it.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (D-) An actionpacked and air-headed adventure of annoyance and a poor story.
Knowing (D-) A stereotypical Hollywood slandering of atheists with a hazy, end-times plot that deserves repudiating.
Land of the Lost (D-) Another really, really, really bad Will Ferrill movie.
Love Happens (F) Sappy, melodramatic, cliched, and repulsive all in one.
Old Dogs (F) (no review available) A movie so stupid, witless, and intelligence-insulting that it can only hope to successfully entertain three-year-olds.
The Final Destination IV (D-) More of the same hollow horror crap.
The Ugly Truth (D+) A dumb and trashy romantic comedy that is more insulting than anything else.
The Unborn (D-) A miserably weak and non-thought-out horror film that, well, just sucks.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (D+)An insult to the X-men series.
The Must-sees are…
Avatar (A-) An excellent and visually pleasing film from the brilliant mind of James Cameron.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (B+) Wonderfully creative and delightfully imaginative.
District 9 (A+) Very disturbing, but one of the best Sci-fi works in quite a while.
Extract (B+) Cute and funny in a relaxing way.
I Love You, Man! (A-) Dirty, but moving and funny.
Inglourious Basterds (A-) Clever Taurantino writing at it again!
Mr. Fantastic Fox (no review available) An excellent film on so many levels.
Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire (A+) So moving and powerful that you've got to see it!
Watchmen (A+) The best comic book movie ever!
And, alas, my picks for the best and worst of 2009…
The Best: Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire (A+) This powerfully moving film blows the socks off this year’s competition with it’s tear-jerking and terribly (and I do mean “terribly”) life-like portrayal of the sad life of an illiterate, obese inner-city girl named Precious whose father gives her two children by rape and whose mother blames her daughter for stealing her husband. Mon’ique, Mariah Carey, and Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe star in a movie that is too much for most to handle—and what the rest of us don’t want to handle.
The Worst: Love Happens (F) This melodramatic flop is the bonafide worst of the worst movie this year, but I’m far from the only one to call it out as a terrible barf-fest of “blahhhhhhhh.” This waste of tape, starring Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart, could be (no, it is) one of the worst films of recent years.
On the stinker’s list are the following…
Sappy, melodramatic, cliched, and repulsive all in one.
Old Dogs (F) (no review available)
A movie so stupid, witless, and intelligence-insulting that it can only hope to successfully entertain three-year-olds.
More of the same hollow horror crap.
A dumb and trashy romantic comedy that is more insulting than anything else.
A miserably weak and non-thought-out horror film that, well, just sucks.
Noisy, clangy, stupid, and mindless, just like the 2007 Transformers, but worse.
Nice Antarctic scenery, but nothing else.
An excellent and visually pleasing film from the brilliant mind of James Cameron.
Wonderfully creative and delightfully imaginative.
Very disturbing, but one of the best Sci-fi works in quite a while.
Cute and funny in a relaxing way.
Dirty, but moving and funny.
Clever Taurantino writing at it again!
Mr. Fantastic Fox (no review available)
An excellent film on so many levels.
So moving and powerful that you've got to see it!
An incredible film with Johnny Depp as John Dilinger.
Russell Crowe plays a journalist who brings down corruption in this better-than-good movie.
The Blindside (B+) A wonderful family fillm.
A hilarious and funny (if humanist) take on a world wherein only one man can lie.
Pixar does it again!
The best comic movie ever!
And, alas, my picks for the best and worst of 2009…
This powerfully moving film blows the socks off this year’s competition with it’s tear-jerking and terribly (and I do mean “terribly”) life-like portrayal of the sad life of an illiterate, obese inner-city girl named Precious whose father gives her two children by rape and whose mother blames her daughter for stealing her husband. Mon’ique, Mariah Carey, and Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe star in a movie that is too much for most to handle—and what the rest of us don’t want to handle.
The Worst: Love Happens (F)
This melodramatic flop is the bonafide worst of the worst movie this year, but I’m far from the only one to call it out as a terrible barf-fest of “blahhhhhhhh.” This could be (no, it is) one of the worst films of all time.