The Spy Next Door
Hong Kong legend Jackie Chan may be comfortably in his fifties, but he still manages to put many of the action genre’s young pretenders to shame with his acrobatics in The Spy Next Door. Targeted at families, Brian Levant’s high-tech comedy marries the martial arts prowess of the leading man with slapstick and lots of family friendly violence. What can we say, kids love people getting hit in the face with pans. Bless them.
Chan does Home Alone
It is the sort of hare-brained caper that elicits squeals of laughter from young audiences as Chan wields two frying pans, one in each hand, and proceeds to batter a pantomime henchmen into unconsciousness. When he’s not saving the world from catastrophe, Chan’s diminutive hero gleefully bungles his colloquialisms – “You are chopping my bust!” – yet still manages to find the words (presumably from the inside of a greetings card) to instruct one deeply unhappy teenager in matters of the heart. “Family isn’t whose blood you carry, it’s who you love and who loves you” he coos with a wistful look in his eye that almost compels us to take him seriously. But not quite.
Never Work With Kids.. Or Secret Agents
Thankfully, a sartorially challenged lead villain – “I look like the Fresh Prince of Belarus!” – and breathlessly choreographed fight sequences ensure Levant’s film is divorced from reality. Special agent Bob Ho (Chan) is loaned from China to the CIA, working alongside his handlers Glaze (George Lopez) and Colton (Billy Ray Cyrus) to bring down criminal masterminds such as the nefarious Poldark (Magnus Scheving). Pretending to be a pen importer, Bob has served his adopted country diligently, but he has now decided to hang up his gadgets to pursue a burgeoning romance with pretty neighbour, Gillian (Amber Valletta). Any thoughts of domestic bliss are short-lived because two of Gillian’s children, step-daughter Farren (Madeline Carroll) and bullied son Ian (Will Shadley), view Bob with disdain. Only the youngest tyke, pink princess Nora (Alina Foley), appears to recognise what a genuinely good guy Bob is – (hello plot of Mrs Doubtfire). When Gillian is called away from home, Bob agrees to babysit. “I brought down dictators. How hard can three children be?” he tells Glaze and Colton. And guess what? Turns out it’s pretty hard.
The Spy Next Door is everything you’d expect from a Jackie Chan escapade that merrily appropriates (see: steals) elements from The Pacifier, Spy Kids and Kindergarten Cop. Chan may need a little technical assistance nowadays to defy gravity, but he flings himself gamely into each stunt sequence, even battling two brutes with the youngest child clinging onto his leg. Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer’s script holds no surprises. A mole in the CIA operation is the most obvious candidate, and the final showdown ladles on the syrup for a feelgood resolution to all of the angst and friction between the generations. Sure it’s fluffy and light as air, but it’s good, kicking-in-the-face family fun all the same.