To his credit, Jackie Chan has decided to grow old gracefully. Instead of action heavy films, he has graduated to a gentler sort of cinematic enterprise, action light, as it were, and, at least since THE TUXEDO, has accepted the occasional help from CGI and wires to achieve his still impressive stunt work. His latest flick, THE SPY NEXT DOOR, is the definition of family friendly, promoting as it does the bedrock family values of inclusion, acceptance, and starting the day with a solid breakfast.
Chan plays Bob Ho, which gives him opportunity to answer his phone by saying Yo, its Ho. Hes on loan to the CIA from the Hong Kong intelligence service in order to stop the fiendish Anton Poldark (Magnus Scheving) from being nefarious at will. The which he does in the first reel with the help of Glaze (George Lopez) and Colt (Billy Ray Cyrus, who does not sing even one note while onscreen or off). And this is a good thing, since his cover was as a mild-mannered, horn-rimmed glasses wearing, argyle sweater-sporting pen importer living in the suburbs where he met and pitched woo with Gillian (Amber Vallettas), the fetching single mom whose three kids think Bob is boring. Just as hes about to come clean with Gillian about his real identity, and take their relationship to the next level, two things happen. Poldark escapes, and Gillian tells Bob that as long as her three kids hate him, she cant continue to see him. Of course a strange twist of fate intervenes and Bob becomes the kids babysitter while Gillian is out of town for a few days. As Bob puts it to Glaze and Colt, Ive taken down dictators, how hard can three kids be?
Yes, its a standard set-up. Yes, there are sweet moments with each kid as they slowly warm to Bob. Yes, Bobs training in martial arts and nifty spy gadgets comes in handy, though that ci-mentioned breakfast is something he has to learn on the fly with the usual smoke-detector consequences. Its not a film for adults, except for die-hard Chan fans, but it is a perfect one for kids whose ages are still in the single digits. Chan himself has an irresistible sweetness to him that his ability to take out bad guys with cast-iron cookware and his flying feet of fury doesnt sour. There is also that natural ebullience as he performs his trademark gymnastics, and turns a bicycle into a lethal weapon with the agility and lightness of a butterfly. A dangerous butterfly, but a butterfly nonetheless. Most of the action comes at the end, with teasers involving saving kittens from rooftops and repairing satellite television dishes.
As for the kids, they are no great shakes as actors, but they go through their paces. Madeline Carrol as the thirteen-year-old Farren is a moody wannabe fashionista heavy on the lip gloss, younger brother Ian (Will Shadley) is a brainy nerd with bully problems and style issues, and four-year-old Nora (Alina Foley) is pig-tailed, obsessed with pink and smiles on cue. The villains of the piece are also stock characters, Scheving makes the most of a running joke about being a fashion victim, and sidekick/moll Creek (Katharine Boecher) assures the film a PG-13 rating with her skin-tight, cleavage-happy catsuits.
THE SPY NEXT DOOR takes a few nice swipes at Chans hair and overpriced shoes, but this is neither arch nor cynical. Its a gentle little film that wont give the kiddies nightmares, but might make their parents long for a triple-feature of some of Chans greatest hits once they get home.