January 25, 2010

The Spy Next Door

thespynextdoor1_largeComing into this year I vowed to cut back on questionable films that looked bad that I was not interested in. I think I already broke that vow, but I sill promise to try and cut back through the year (it could make my bottom 10 a bit more interesting). To this end, I said I would see one of The Spy Next Door and The Tooth Fairy. I am a fan of both Jackie Chan and Dwayne Johnson, although I am partial to Chan. The decision was made when a couple of my friends wanted to see The Spy Next Door. So, off we went in the hopes of a good time, although I was not without my doubts.

As I left the theater, I cannot say I liked the movie but at the same time I cannot say I disliked the movie. Well, at least not entirely. I did come away feeling the film could very easily be ripped apart, it is just that kind of movie. At the same time I did not quite have the heart or desire to take that route. The Spy Next Door is a movie aimed squarely and unabashedly at the younger set. This is not really a movie for adults, it is not really made with that crossover appeal. Sure, adults can and do enjoy it but I am sure you understand.

The Spy Next Door surprisingly hooked me early, although not completely. I loved how the movie opened with old movie clips. The opening credits sequence played clips from a number of old Chan films (although it seemed weighted towards The Tuxedo) while "Secret Agent Man" played. It was fun seeing some of the clips and instantly gave Chan's character a background and history that you would not have the time to do otherwise.


As the story proper begins, we are introduced to Gillian (Amber Valletta) and her three kids, which are quite the handful. As she is getting them ready for school we also meet Bob Ho (Chan), a quiet, unassuming, bespectacled pen salesman who also happens to be dating Gillian. Of course, the kids can't stand the corporate drone that they believe Bob is.

Of course, none of them know who Bob Ho really is. When night falls, Bob is called to his real work, as a spy on loan to the CIA. He is working to capture nefarious Russian baddie Poldark. He is captured with ease, but promptly escapes and this is where the plot takes hold. It seems that Bob has come into possession of something the Russians want and will stop at nothing to retrieve it. Unfortunately, this places Gillian and her family right in the middle of some deadly spy games.

The plot is pretty inconsequential. It exists merely to allow Bob to bond with the children and to put some action on display for the audience. To that end, not much thought was given to its development. This is how we end up with generic Russian bad guy stereotypes that went out of fashion twenty years ago and a story that does not take any chances on any front. There is never any genuine peril for any character to have to get out of and there are also many moments that threatened to have heart that were squandered. It was clearly an effort to keep the movie moving, lest we actually begin to care and become involved.


In any case, this is a family film where the bad guys will be vanquished, the kids will like the hero, the love interest will have a momentary lapse of understanding, and the ending will be a happy one. What else do you need to know?

When it comes right down to it, there one, and only one, reason to like this movie. That reason is Jackie Chan. The man is always smiling and his enthusiasm is terribly infectious. I find it hard not to root for him or enjoy the stunts he does. Yes, he has slowed down some and he does use wires on occasion, but that in no way lessens his considerable charisma. He has always wanted to make action films that kids can go to, this is one of them. While it is far from great, I am sure he is as proud of it as any film he's made. Has he made better? You bet. Will he make better? I would not doubt it. For this film, Chan has some fun moments here where he can show off and the kids seem to like it.

Oh yes, I could have done without George Lopez and Billy Ray Cyrus. Those two create an entertainment black hole that is nearly impossible to escape.

Bottomline. Should you see this movie? Probably not. It is emotionally empty and generally plot-less, but is not without a few fun moments. Like I said, there is always the ever-smiling presence of Jackie Chan to carry you through.

Not Recommended.

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