The Good: Moments of early humor
The Bad: Utterly predictable, No real character development, Light on charm
The Basics: In another dismal child-oriented action-comedy, Jackie Chan takes on the role of a boyfriend trying to impress bratty kids while running away from an old villain.
Every now and then, I take a day and seat myself in a movie theater and I watch several movies over the course of the day. To prepare for such a day, I went and watched The Spy Next Door, which seemed from the previews like it might be a second rate Spy Kids. Unfortunately, this is one of the cases where the previews accurately call the actual movie experience: after a rather droll comedic set-up, The Spy Next Door becomes a banal action-adventure that is utterly family friendly and dull, even for kids in the audience.
The thing is, when I go to movies these days, I often take notes so I can keep track of important details. When I look over the notes I have on The Spy Next Door, I was unsurprised to find my notes reminded me "No one's laughing" and "predictable" (underlined several times) without much about the actual film. The reason for that is ridiculously simple: the film is very simple and the audience reactions were no more interesting than the actual movie. If nothing else, though, there were moments I vaguely cared about the characters or thought Jackie Chan did a decent job opposite the children in the cast and it was not the worst children's film I had seen this last week.
That said, The Spy Next Door is likely not to appeal to anyone, save children who have not seen an action-adventure comedy before.
Bob Ho is very much in love with Gillian, who has three children. While Farren, Ian and Nora dislike Bob on principle, Gillian has hopes for the relationship. When she has to go away abruptly, she begs Bob to take care of the three kids and, eager to impress her, he goes along with it. After initially cool reactions to Bob, the kids download a secret document and Bob's nemesis, Poldark, heads to recover the information for his own nefarious purposes.
Bob must defend the children and protect the secrets, without destroying the house.
The Spy Next Door quickly goes from being a blase "kids don't like the new father-figure" comedy to a generic chase film where the adult must protect the children and they, in turn, come to respect him. From the moment Bob's past as a spy is exposed and he and Poldark square off, the film becomes virtually unwatchable. Up until that point, the movie is more boring and a collection of jokes that are mild bodily function and physical humor jokes as the kids express their dislike of Bob through mild pranks.
Jackie Chan is at ease in the role of Bob Ho, probably because this is a cleaner version of his character from the Rush Hour movies, but is essentially the same use of Chan's physical abilities for comedy as opposed to action. Chan has moments where he does the perplexed face and shocked look, as appropriate. But The Spy Next Door does not raise the acting abilities of the mostly physical actor and the moments when the kids start to like him are entirely predictable and he does his best not to perform them with stiffness, instead appropriately melting at the right moments. But the performance is not at all interesting.
Sadly, the acting of the three child actors is not extraordinary in any ways. Madeline Carroll (Faren) is not a young version of Anne Hathaway and her performance does not remind the viewer even of the potential of younger performers, like Dakota Fanning or Alexa Vega. Instead, she and costar Alina Foley seem to have been cast mostly for their "cute" quality. After half a film of watching them perform as utterly obnoxious characters, the viewer is supposed to care about what happens to them and not want Poldrake to harm them. This is trading more on the fact that they fit the traditional mold of what is cute and they are kids way over their head than either the likability of either character or the talent of the actors. Similarly, Will Shadley does not inspire the viewer to make comparisons with any great child actors of years gone by.
Now on DVD, The Spy Next Door comes with minimal bonus features. In addition to a blooper reel which is not terribly funny, there are two featurettes. One of the featurettes focuses on the children of The Spy Next Door and the other is about Jackie Chan, both of which are pretty short and basic.
Ultimately, the problem with The Spy Next Door is that when the film is a comedy, it is a bland form of humor that is utterly forgettable and common. When the film turns to action, it is equally unimpressive and obvious. Even children are likely to be unimpressed with this film and parents might not want to have to try to explain to them why they made them sit through the 1 1/2 hours of it.
For other action-adventure movies for children, please check out my reviews of:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
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© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.