I’m a lukewarm Jackie Chan fan. He’s been in some terrific films, notably Rush Hour and The Forbidden Kingdom, but he’s also been in a lot of movies that are stupid, including the Rush Hour sequels and the ghastly Around the World in 80 Days.
His newest film, The Spy Next Door, is positioned as a sort of kung fu version of Kindergarten Cop, where the running shtick is that he’s a superspy, but his cute neighbor Gillian (Amber Valletta) and her kids think he’s a bumbling salesman. The kids are puzzled by why Gillian is dating Bob Ho (Chan), as are we viewers, because there’s absolutely zero chemistry between them.
The fundamental problem is that it’s a Jackie Chan movie, not a family film, which is what it appears they started out making. Comic violence is marginally acceptable in a children’s action film, but it’s over the top here, including Jackie slamming a bad guy’s face down into a coffee table and other bad guys being thrown through windows, etc.
There are some elements that director Brian Levant nails. At one point the older daughter Farren (Madeline Carroll) yells “shotgun!” just to have her brother Ian (Will Shadley) argue that it’s his turn to be in the front. I hear that every week in my family!
The story is very modern, too: Gillian is a single mom whose ex has vanished, leaving her with her own two children, Ian and Nora (Alina Foley), along with stepdaughter Farren, who sits on the roof waiting for her real dad to reappear. Meanwhile, Bob (Chan) is a spy on loan to the CIA from the Chinese and is working with Colton (Billy Ray Cyrus) and Glaze (George Lopez).
There are some funny lines in the film, including Bob saying, “I brought down dictators, how tough can three kids be?” And another when Farren describes Bob’s outfit as “fashion Armageddon.” There are even some great sight gags: Bob climbs on Gillian’s roof at one point and fixes her satellite dish reception by using his spy gear to reorient the satellite.
Still, it just doesn’t add up, the story is too incoherent, and the bad guys, Poldark (Magnus Scheving) and his evil gal sidekick Creel (Katherine Boecher) are ghastly even in a film that’s absolutely full of poor acting.
This is the kind of movie that feels like it started out as an idea for a few sight gags generated over a bottle of Chardonnay, and by the time it ended up in the screening room, too much money had gone into the production to axe it. Yes, there are some cute elements to the story and some good action sequences, but it’s a Jackie Chan movie awkwardly lobotomized to be what Hollywood thinks is appropriate children’s fare.
My recommendation? If you’re a hard-core Jackie Chan fan, The Spy Next Door is a good rental, but I really wouldn’t recommend paying to see it in the theater, and definitely don’t take your kids unless they’re fine with rather intense “comic violence” that felt way too violent for my tastes.