Rating: 2 out of 5
Shrugging off any rumours of retirement, Hong Kong Superstar Jackie Chan returns to cinemas this year with at least three movies, the most prominent being the upcoming remake of The Karate Kid, where he takes on the ‘Miyagi’ mentor role.
In this film, however, Chan is Chinese spy Bob Ho, on loan to the CIA. Right after capturing the bad guy Poldark (Magnus Scheving), who has a dastardly formula that can destroy oil, Bob decides to retire and hopefully marry his next-door neighbour, Gillian (Amber Valletta).
Trouble is, Gillian has three kids who like Bob as much as soggy broccoli.
The eldest, Farren (Madeline Carroll), views him as a threat to the return of her father, and—surprise—does everything she can to sabotage relations between Bob and Gillian.
Having to take care of her father, Gillian leaves Bob in charge of her three children—surprise, surprise—in part to foster bonding. Meanwhile, Poldark escapes and is out to exact revenge on Bob. Soon, the children are embroiled in the hi-jinks, but Bob and his young charges naturally save the day.
Surprise, surprise, surprise!
Apart from its mind-numbing predictability, there is nothing here that Chan’s fans haven’t seen before.
The stuntwork is rather banal and unimaginative, especially in comparison to Chan’s early work.
To try in vain to make up for the uninspired action sequences, there is a glut of Bond-style high-tech gadgetry, which allows the kids to join in the ‘fun’.
Besides underutilising Chan, director Brian Levant, who also directed such family films as Beethoven (1992), Snow Dogs (2002) and Are We There Yet? (2005)—another film with a man dealing with a nightmare babysitting assignment—has a problem with one-liners.
Simply put, they don’t work. What makes things worse is that some of the running gags, particularly one about Poldark’s inability to find a good suit after he breaks out of prison, are persisted with despite their ineffectiveness.
Furthermore, there are some rather big plot holes. In this day and age, could any reasonable-thinking person still imagine that a computer file is like a physical file—this is not Zoolander, you know—and only one copy can exist? Even a five-year-old could see through that.
The movie does have a saving grace. Carroll is quite convincing as the resentful big sister, and is definitely more menacing than the comical, stereotypical European villain Poldark.
Chan himself pretty much sleepwalks through the film, putting forth his usual standard range of facial expressions and hardly breaking a sweat. Whether being attacked by European assassins or trying to calm the children down, he puts on the same face of consternation.
All in all, The Spy Next Door seems to be pretty much family-film filler, and even diehard Chan fans will probably be disappointed.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
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