In “The Spy Next Door” Jackie Chan does a Hannah Montana routine. By day he is Bob, a mild mannered pen salesman, at night, however—or whenever duty calls—he’s actually a Chinese secret agent working with the FBI. Like Hannah, whose father Billy Ray co-stars with Chan, Jackie leads a double life. Unlike Hannah he isn’t popular with kids. Or more precisely he isn’t popular with his girlfriend’s three precocious children who think he is a dweeb. He is, however, determined to win them over. “I’ve brought down dictators,” he says, “how tough can three kids be?”
The kids turn out to be just as tough as the Boris and Natasha wannabes (Magnús Scheving and Katherine Boecher) who are after Bob, thinking that he has downloaded a secret formula that turns oil into dust. That formula will make them rich and they desperately want it back.
Coming hot on the heels of one of the best years in kid’s entertainment I had hoped the bar would be raised somewhat. 2009 gave us “Up”, “Where the Wild Things Are”, “Coraline” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”, all of which are about as good as it gets in the line of cinematic amusement for teacup humans. Those movies treated kids like real, thinking people, engaging their imaginations, minds and emotions. Compared to those movies “The Spy Next Door” is a let down, as it connects with none of those elements. It’s a throwback to the kind of lame Saturday morning matinee action-adventure that passed for kid’s flicks in less adventuresome times.
It’s an old formula. Take a silly premise—undercover spy in love with a civilian—add some “heartwarming” moments—Chan lectures the oldest daughter on the importance of family—mix with one popular, yet unlikely star—Chan doing his take on the Vin Diesel role in “The Pacifier”—and the result is… a warmed over family movie that won’t appeal to adults and has little entertainment value for the kids.
The gags—like “He’s as gone as a rum cake at an AA meeting”—which I guess, are aimed at the adults in the audience, were old the first time they aired on “Hee Haw” and children may giggle when Chan answers the phone with the greeting, “Yo, it’s Ho,” but his earnest speeches about togetherness will likely send them to snores-ville.
Of course, Chan’s larger-than-life antics have always been popular with kids but there isn’t enough high flying action. There is way too much downtime between the kid friendly action sequences to keep little minds interested and even when the pace does pick up it never feels like it kicks in high gear.
Compared to the kind of kid’s films we’ve been treated to recently “The Spy Next Door” feels like a relic from a different time; a time before 2009 when the bar for this type of entertainment was raised very high.