The Spy Next Door (4/10)

Hooray, another groan-worthy “family friendly” flick that aims to reach new levels of mediocrity! Only this time, they’ve roped Jackie Chan into the proceedings! How fun! Well, actually, it is kinda fun, and Chan and his Kung Fu antics are the only saving grace of a movie that includes such humor black holes as George Lopez and Billy Ray Cyrus.

Chan is Bob Ho, a top-super-secret agent who has just nabbed a really bad Russian dude, Poldark. It’s his last job, so he can spend time wooing his neighbor Gillian (Amber Valletta, just along for the ride but being nice about it anyway), settling down, and getting her spunky zany kids to like him. This is where the not-so-fun begins, as his efforts are thwarted and complicated when he learns Poldark has escaped and is starting the usual evil mastermind business of plotting once again.

With this kind of movie, you know most of its plot play-by-play even before it happens, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, if the characters were unique or fun enough to watch. That’s not the case. Billy Ray Cyrus reads lines from an off-camera script; George Lopez, stripped of his usual shtick, contents himself with waddling from scene to scene with no observable intent or thought operating his actions. The two Russian baddies, Poldark (Magnus Scheving) and Creel (Katherine Boecher) camp up their roles and seem to be having a good bit of fun, but their threat level is nullified because their very cartoonish-ness (both in acting and in plot) may as well be shouting, “Ve vill catch moose and squirrel!”

The family doesn’t fare much better – and you know you’re in trouble when the kids in a kids movie can’t act worth a darn. Even putting aside the fact that there’s the predictable quirky super smart ten-year-old who is bullied and doesn’t know how to talk to girls; the whiny teenage brat; and the uber-cute eccentrically innocent six-year-old, the kids themselves never create anything close to a full character. They say their lines with strictly the required quirkiness, giving their performances a choppy, incomplete feel. Thank God for Jackie Chan.

Throughout his career, Chan clearly has a blast with every single one of his roles, and this one is no different. He’s the ultimate good sport, a bundle of joy whose enthusiasm keeps the movie from being an unbearable exercise in cliche-ridden dialog and competent but unremarkable action. It’s a shame how extensively wires are used for his stunts – Chan is getting old, and pretty much every single stunt in this movie he could have pulled off with no wires much more visual pizazz in his younger days. He has said that he’d like to movie away from action and focus more on dramatic roles, but knows his fans would never let him. Too bad. The guy has got some serious dramatic chops within him, and if he only got a chance to use those muscles he could have an extremely interesting career.

For the time being, we’ll have to content ourselves with the Jackie Chan we know and love, and use the movie as a nostalgia-inducing piece reminding us of how incredible Chan truly was back in the day. The opening credits even offer up a collection of some of his best scenes and stunts, depicting “Bob Ho’s” life as secret agent. It’s a great way to start a movie and will set you in the mood right away for Chan’s signature brand of action. And even if the movie as a whole falls woefully short of this promise, Chan’s very presence and easygoing charisma are enough to make any movie, no matter how mediocre, a relatively fun time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: