While the New Year was ushered in with a groan as Leap Year was unleashed upon us, the good news kept on coming for James Cameron’s mega-blockbuster, Avatar. This week doesn’t fare any better as Jackie Chan himself continues to go Hollywood with awfully lackluster results in his latest American paycheck, The Spy Next Door.
Leave it to director Brian Levant, he of such family-oriented films as Problem Child 2, Beethoven, both Flintstones films, Jingle All the Way, Snow Dogs, Are We There Yet? and the straight-to-video prequel Scooby Doo! The Mystery Begins, to take Chan and pit him against some of the worst stereotypes ranging from an inappropriately sexualized 13-year-old to Russian terrorists.
Chan has definitely been in some bad films and this is not the worst thing he’s been in. It’s a huge step up from The Forbidden Kingdom and gives him far more to do than his minimal lines in Kung Fu Panda. I would even go so far as to say that if I was channel surfing and came across this film, all for the sake of Chan himself I would much rather sit through this film again before either of the Rush Hour sequels (the original still remains competent in my book).
CIA spy Bob Ho (Chan) is on loan from the Chinese government and has just brought down uber-villain Boris… er, Poldark (Magnús Scheving), who has just found a substance that literally eats oil. All Bob wants to do now is settle down with next-door neighbor Gillian (Amber Valletta) against his boss (George Lopez) and co-worker’s (Billy Ray Cyrus) best interests, and in spite of the fact that they’ve only been dating for three months and her three children hate him.
When Gillian’s grandmother winds up in the hospital, she calls upon Bob to look after her trio of youngsters, Farren (Madeline Carroll), Ian (Will Shadley), and Nora (Alina Foley). Farren just wants to be left alone to date college boys, Ian keeps getting in inexplicable trouble at school for getting himself thrown in trash cans while receiving wedgies, and Nora just wants some chicken fingers.
After Ian accidentally downloads a super secret file off Bob’s computer, the thugs arrive to cause chaos and complications for Bob and the little tykes. Now Bob has to rescue the kids, find the file, and save the day against his own better judgment. Not to mention that through all this, Gillian has no idea whether her kids are even still in the house or out joining Bob in fisticuffs.
Thankfully, Levant surprisingly knows how to film a believable fight scene and Chan still has far more moves left in him than Milla Jovovich could ever dream no matter how much editing she receives. While far too much of the fights rely on extremely obvious wire effects, the scenes where Chan goes mano-a-mano shine through and steal what otherwise could be one of the worst family-friendly action hybrids.
No one may ever know why writers Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer (who gave us the likes of Max Keeble’s Big Move, Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, and Just My Luck) along with Gregory Poirier (Gossip, Tomcats, A Sound of Thunder, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets) thought this was all a great idea. Imagine if you will a cross between a scrapped Boris and Natasha script and your standard Z-grade action film shaken and not stirred, then poured over the icy premise of next-door neighbor lover babysits children to win them over while relying on spy tactics to control their actions.
Plot is excessively in the forefront while the so-called action gets in the way with Chan never given enough one-liners. While Chan’s English may still not be great, it’s more than adequate and lends much in the way of his ever-reliable charm. The Pacifier this is not. Chan also needs better sidekicks. Even Chris Tucker is nowhere nearly as awful as listening to George Lopez and Billy Ray Cyrus trade barbs of dialogue so horrendous it seems like parts of the gag reel were spliced into the final cut.
Anyone who doesn’t know what happens when Jackie Chan is in an abandoned warehouse where random folding chairs lie about and one of the children arrives on the scene on a bicycle and thugs show up is in the wrong theater. Chan also deserves at least one more outing with Owen Wilson in a third Shanghai film to round out a rather great trilogy possibility. Do I smell Shanghai Hollywood? Nope, it’s just another dropping on the dung heap of January family fare.
Photo courtesy Lionsgate