Monday, July 19, 2010

Steer Clear of The Spy Next Door

The Spy Next Door
Directed by Brian Levant
Running Time: 94 minutes
Originally Released: January 15, 2010

* (out of four)

Every year, it seems Hollywood treats us to a minimum of two to three family comedies with this same basic premise: a macho man with little to no childrearing experience suddenly finds himself the primary caretaker of children. The only substantial difference between these movies is the lead actor and the profession of the character he plays, be it a Navy SEAL (The Pacifier), a former pro-wrestler (Mr. Nanny), or an undercover police officer (Kindergarten Cop). In the case of The Spy Next Door, the lead actor is Jackie Chan, and his character, Bob Ho, is a Chinese special agent on loan to the CIA. Unless you’ve somehow managed never to see one of these movies, you should now have enough information to imagine the movie from beginning to end with very little problem. For those who demand details, however, I’ll now provide a formal review.

Chinese spy Bob is in America, working with the CIA to foil a group of Russian (surprise!) terrorists, who have developed some kind of oil-devouring bacteria. (I can just see the executives at BP drooling over that one!) To preserve his cover, Bob lives in a suburban home under the guise of being a pen importer. In his spare time, Bob dates Gillian (Amber Valletta), the single mother of three who lives next door. Gillian’s kids think Bob is a total loser, but he hopes to change all that by proving himself an awesome babysitter while Gillian goes out of town to visit her sick father. The kids resist him, of course, doing their best to undermine his authority while Mommy is away. Fortunately for Bob, his spy savvy gives him the upper hand, at least part of the time. When four-year-old Nora resists going to bed and runs off down the hall, Bob uses some kind of high-tech miniature grappling hook to reel her back in. When the kids lock Bob out of the house after a grocery shopping trip, he uses some kind of high-tech grappling hook hidden in his belt to climb up on the roof and work his way inside. You get the idea. Grappling hooks, etc., and not that much of the etc. Really, the spy gadgetry is disappointingly uninventive in this movie. It would certainly have taken the film up a notch to have some fresh spy gadgets up Bob’s sleeve, something to dazzle us while the rest of the movie runs on autopilot. But no such luck here. Even when the Russians track Bob down, thanks to one of the children unknowingly downloading an important spy document onto his iPod from Bob’s computer, the movie remains utterly boring. As it turns out, being boring is the only thing the movie does marvelously well.

Speaking of being boring, the children may as well have been named This, That, and The Other for all the originality they possess. Farren (Madeline Carroll) is the moody 13-year-old who is on the cusp of her rebellious years and is particularly resistant to a new father figure. Ian (Will Shadley) is the brainy middle child who needs some lessons on how to be cool, which Bob unexpectedly provides. And Nora (Alina Foley), the four-year-old, is the obligatory cute one. There’s just one problem: she isn’t that cute. In fact, neither she nor her two on-screen older siblings have the least bit going for them as child actors. If a movie like this is going to work, the child actors who are involved must have talent and must be able to charm us despite the fact that we’ve seen it all a hundred times before. Unfortunately, the younger talent in The Spy Next Door is about as humdrum as you can imagine. Never has the word “forgettable” felt so applicable, the saving grace being that at least the kids aren’t bad actors, in which case they might actually be remembered for something. In all fairness, though, the script gives the young actors virtually nothing interesting to do or say. If they have more talent than they exhibit on screen, it’s not exactly their fault.

The adult actors don’t fare much better. Chan is especially stilted, and honestly, he just seems tired. Even the action sequences feel intentionally slowed down to accommodate him, which probably explains the lack of action sequences in the blooper reel that accompanies the film’s end credits. When Chan was becoming a household name in America, he was already 40. That was 15 years ago. That he’s slowing down a bit shouldn’t surprise us, but the sad truth is, Chan’s martial arts abilities are the reason he gets movie roles in the first place. When those skills start sagging—when the audience is painfully aware that the on-screen villains are going easy on the so-called hero of the movie—the gig is up. One gets the feeling Chan himself knows this. He doesn’t look like he’s having fun doing this type of movie—he looks resigned to it.

Equally deplorable performances are delivered by George Lopez, who plays Glaze, Bob’s CIA boss; Billy Ray Cyrus, who plays Colton, Bob’s partner and friend; Magnús Scheving, who plays Poldark, ringleader of the Russian gang; and Katherine Boecher, who plays Creel, Poldark’s sexy second-in-command. Scheving (whom some will recognize as Sportacus from Nick Jr.’s LazyTown), Boecher, and the aforementioned Valletta come off as particularly generic, although this is probably a matter of being less recognizable than Lopez and Cyrus, not necessarily less talented.

Even for a formulaic movie, The Spy Next Door is dull, lazy, and uninteresting. It is difficult to see anyone involved with the movie as giving any real effort. I’m sure there were many people working behind the scenes who gave it their all—caterers, electricians, and whatnot. I have no beef with them, although I can’t help wishing in this one particular instance that they had all remained unemployed. They wouldn’t have been out of a job for long, after all. They’re probably busy churning out another one of these atrocities as we speak.


  1. I hated this review because it reminded me of this horrible movie. At least Eddie kinda had fun!

  2. Okay, so I'm embarrassed to admit that despite the bad acting and way too predictable plot and Jackie Chan being less than his stunning self, we kinda enjoyed it. Perhaps I just needed a dead head movie.