Movie Review: The Spy Next Door

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Jackie Chan's House
Jackie Chan's House

I have to be honest with you up front, I’m a huge Jackie Chan fan.  I’m not just talking the modern day “American” movie star Jackie Chan that has come about with movies like Rush HourAround the World in 80 Days, and The Tuxedo.  No, I’m talking about classic, pirate fighting, Project A Jackie Chan.  I’ve even included the picture on the left to show that I’ve whizzed past the man’s house at 30 mph on a Hollywood tour bus just to catch a glimpse.  And I confess all this to you because while the cinema student in me says that this movie was only 3 stars, my appreciation for all things Jackie Chan has required me to give it an extra half star – just on principle.

So did I mention this is a Jackie Chan movie?

The Spy Next Door is Jackie Chan’s latest movie venture that is due to be released in 2010.  Tonight however at the Regal Cinemas in Winter Park, FL I was able to see a sneak preview of this movie thanks to a offer caught by my wife on Twitter – she already knew it was a movie I had to see.  Per usual for these sneak peaks, cell phones are not allowed and there was security ready to eject anyone trying to use them.  So I merely tweeted before the movie that I was in line, and after the movie I had tweeted this basic quick review:

The Spy Next Door Tweet
The Spy Next Door Tweet

Overall I have to say that I really enjoyed this movie.  Was it the best movie ever?  No.  Was it Jackie Chan’s best movie ever?  Certainly not.  But it was a very entertaining movie, full of the the core humor style that Jackie Chan is famous for.  And this is primarily why I liked it – I could see Jackie Chan as a part of this movie, not just the star of the movie.  A quality that I feel has followed him throughout his career.

The first few minutes of this movie start with a title sequence that is a video montage of scenes from many of Jackie Chan’s Spy and Police movies while the song Secret Agent Man plays.  This alone is sure to keep a fan like myself in their seat for the duration.

We learn about Jackie Chan’s character, Bob Ho, right away discovering that he is a man suffering from the same sorts of duality issues as Clark Kent.  By day Bob is a mild-mannered pen salesman, but by night he’s a secret agent on loan to the CIA from Chinese Intelligence.  We discover that as Bob the pen salesman he lives next door to a woman, Gillian (Amber Valletta), who he is dating, and her three children.  In typical American movie fashion, the children hate him.

What we learn is that Bob is ready to retire from being a spy – he wants to settle down.  In fact, he wants to marry Gillian.  During a date between the two, he excuses himself to capture his nemesis Poldark (Magnús Scheving), and once he’s done so, he says his good-byes to his two CIA friends, Colton (Billy Ray Cyrus) & Glaze (George Lopez), and retires from the spy biz.  End of movie.  Roll credits.  Yeah right.

We’re back in suburban life, Bob is apologizing to Gillian for leaving in the middle of their date, and they’re talking about marriage and really bad art.  And the kids begin plotting to break them up.  Gillian gets a phone call, and has to rush off to be with her father who’s in the hospital.  Bob steps up and offers to watch the kids.  All of this happens in the first 15 minutes of the movie.

From there, we are sent travelling through a winding road containing a secret formula, Russian bad guys with bad Russian accents, spy gadgetry, and the “kung-fu” that Jackie Chan is most famous for.  And somehow, we get to a cohesive family unit that finds true love and happiness.  Oh sure, there’s bumps along the way as a pissed off Gillian sticks it to Bob for putting her kids in harms way while he plays his spy games.  Of course, that it all happened is not his fault – the Russians aren’t actually after him, he’s just collateral damage, as are the kids.

The movie is funny, especially the moments with the youngest child.  She and Jackie Chan work well together on the screen, and their bond seemed genuine.  Their interactions are, at times, very slapstick, and there are moments with her and him that are clearly designed for a laugh, and those moments succeed.  The geekiness of the middle child is also funny, but in a different sort of way.  There is no humor in the character of the oldest child – she is the tragedian of the story.

The roles played by Billy Ray Cyrus and George Lopez are small.  Of the two, George Lopez’s role could have been played by anyone – he did almost no acting, and his entire purpose in the movie seemed to be getting hit over the head with large objects and falling unconscious much like a character out of an old Bugs Bunny cartoon might.  Billy Ray Cyrus also didn’t have much screen time, but seeing him in a duster with a gun made me actually like his character.  He looked interesting, and cool – I often feel this way about the characters he plays.

One thing I noticed is that it seems Jackie Chan is finally starting to show his age some.  He’s not quite as young looking as he once was when the camera is in close.  And I’m pretty convinced that in one scene, with a bicycle, he wasn’t doing his own stunts.  This won’t dissuade me from Jackie Chan movies in the future.  In fact, I’m really looking forward to Karate Kid.  It just bears mentioning as Jackie Chan is well known for doing his own stunts.

The movie closes with the standard Jackie Chan style blooper reel, so don’t walk out once the credits start rolling or you might miss them.  They’re not as funny as the ones in some of his older movies, but rather center around his continuing challenges with the English language.

If you have kids you will enjoy taking them to this movie.  It won’t bore you, and it will keep them occupied.  If you are a Jackie Chan fan, you’ll get your fix from this movie.  For everyone else, it will all come down to taste and what you do or don’t like.  I know this, my wife and I enjoyed this movie, and we’ll probably see it again when its released to DVD/Blu-ray.

4 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Spy Next Door”

  1. I found your blog on Google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

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