May 17, 2010

The Spy Next Door

There is something I learned about Jackie Chan some years ago, he is not a terribly good actor. Yes, there are moments where his performances shine, but I think that is just a coincidence or credit to the directors and writers. On the plus side, Chan always seems to find the right projects for his particular skill set. The Spy Next Door is one of those projects that is right for him. Quite frankly, without him this movie would be near impossible to watch. This really is not a good film and I blame my Chan-fandom for enjoying it as much as I do.

Jackie Chan stars as Bob Ho, a mild mannered bespectacled pen salesman by day and international super-spy by night. His current assignment has him on loan to the CIA where he is helping track a nefarious gang of Russian baddies who plan on destroying out oil supply. While he works on this mission he maintains a home in suburbia and has even struck up a meaningful relationship with his next door neighbor, Gillian (Amber Valletta). The problem is that her kids do not particularly care for him.


The question quickly becomes whether the Russians or the kids will prove Ho's tougher opponent. Then, predictably, the question becomes will the kids come around and help Ho defeat the bad guys after learning his secret identity. It all moves forward very predictably. There is only one way this story can play out, one way it can end, and only one way to make you smile.

If you are looking for any deep relationship revelations, look elsewhere. This is a lighthearted family-action-comedy that avoids any sort of depth. This movie is all about the surface, never engaging the brain, simply desiring to provide a little escape from anything that involves effort. There are moments that threaten to entertain genuine emotion, but they are quickly defused by a scene of slapstick violence or physical comedy.


So, story aside, depth aside, and any real character development aside, what is there to like about The Spy Next Door? First and foremost is Jackie Chan. I do no want to belabor the point, but Chan is a great screen presence, it does not seem to matter what is role is or how good the movie is as a whole, he is always watchable and he is always having a great time. I daresay he is a cinematic treasure. Not many people can have as many classics and as many flops as Chan and still be loved by so many. All right, enough gushing.

Is there any other reason to like it? The Russian baddies are so over the top they feel like they are from a different movie, it i somewhat comical. The kids are all right. The youngest is Nora, played by Alina Foley, gets a little over the top with the cuteness factor. The oldest, Farren (Madeline Carroll), is not bad and would seem to have a good future ahead of her. However, on the other side of the coin, you have George Lopez and Billy Ray Cyrus. That pair I could have done without.

I will give the movie some bonus credit for the opening credits. To sell the whole spy thing they compiled clips from some of Chan's other films. I am not sure which ones exactly, aside from The Tuxedo, which I am sure was used for the tux footage more than anything else. I believe there is stuff in there from Operation Condor as well. Whatever films they used, it sure was a clever way to open the movie.


Audio/Video. The movie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and it looks good if not spectacular. The color palette looks just as I remember it from the theater. It is rather sedate looking with nothing really popping in the high definition frame. That said, the color is realistic in nature, occasionally taking a turn to the bluish, particularly in the warehouse scenes and the few nighttime scenes. There is evident film grain, which is nice to see that it wasn't all scrubbed out (I like that film look once in awhile).

The audio is 5.1 DTS-HD and it is a pretty good track. The movie may not be filled with explosions and big time sound effects,  but it does have its fair share of sound work and this track does a fine job of giving you a full sound field. This is most notable during the fight sequences and the kitchen scenes where Jackie, er, Bob is teaching himself to cook. Nicely done track.

  • Jackie Chan: Stunt Master and Mentor. Thie featurette takes a look at our star. We get a behind the scenes look at his personality and his skills, not to mention his chemistry with the kids. It is fun to watch.
  • Adventures in Acting with the Kids of The Spy Next Door. They talk about how they got into acting and about how their careers are going.
  • Blooper Reel. The one thing that is always necessary for a Jackie Chan movie, a blooper reel. Unfortunately, this is th exact same set of clips that runs during the credits.
Bottomline. If you are an adult of a certain age I cannot recommend this movie. If you are a child or a fan of Jackie Chan, have at it. Chan's charisma burns through the mediocre material and he livens up the entire proceeding while the slapstick action and comedy routines will make the kid in you smile. You will not likely remember it for long, but in the short term it is fun.

Mildly Recommended.

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This article was first published at Blogcritics.


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