Sunday, 14 March 2021

Netflix And Chill: The Spy Next Door (2010)

Putting Jackie Chan in more family-friendly fare that should appeal to a mass American audience has rarely been a good thing, With a few notable exceptions, the results have been quite turgid. They also often make the huge mistake of covering up any Chan antics with special effects, which obfuscates their best special effect (Jackie Chan himself).

So I didn't head into The Spy Next Door with any great expectations. It's all about a retiring special agent named Bob Ho (Chan) who is dating a lovely woman (Gillian, played by Amber Valletta) and ends up looking after her three kids for a few days. The children are, in descending age order, Farren (Madeline Carroll), Ian (Will Shadley), and Nora (Alina Foley). Unaware of what Bob actually did for a living, the kids are soon surprised when they encounter a number of villains who are out to get him.

Director Brian Levant may have quite a few family features under his belt (including BOTH of The Flintstones movies and Jingle All The Way), and the writing team of Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer, joined here by Gregory Poirier, also have experience of aiming at younger viewers (the first two having also written Lindsay Lohan vehicle, Just My Luck). Which is all well and good, yet nobody knows how best to use Chan, once again.

Having said that, nobody here wanders into the outright awful mistreatment of Chan as we saw in the likes of The Medallion and The Tuxedo. While this is a less stunt-packed movie, some of the fight scenes aren't too bad, and there are some mildly amusing set-pieces. It's just a shame that, inevitably, fans of the star will have seen him do stuff like this with much better results. 

The cast are a very mixed bag. The three kids do quite well though. Carroll is the moody teen, Shadley is the young bright spark, and Foley is the cute youngest one. And Chan is Chan, which means he's pretty wonderful in pretty much anything he does. Valletta is sidelined for a lot of the film, but she's perfectly fine. Magnûs Scheving is the main villain, and there's an amusing running joke about people bringing him back unsuitable clothing from the shops. Alongside Katherine Boecher (playing Creel, his right-hand woman), Scheving is required to play his role without any real sense of threat or menace. That's a shame, because it makes everything seem much more inconsequential. Lucas Till is enjoyable in a small role, which is more than I can say for Billy Ray Cyrus (who plays Colton James, a colleague of Bob). And you have George Lopez in the role of Glaze, with him trying his best in a role that takes the most predictable turn you expect once the plot starts to kick into gear.

Taken by itself, this is far from a terrible movie. It's not a great one either. It's just a passable bit of family fare. But Chan fans have so many other films to compare it to, and that's when it starts to look worse and worse. MAYBE a decent introduction to the superstar for younger viewers, I'd certainly ask you to consider it ahead of the other two titles mentioned just above (although I have a bit more of a soft spot for The Tuxedo nowadays, thanks to the cast).


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