January 28, 2010

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The Spy Next Door (PG)
Another wince-inducing action comedy uses Jackie Chan’s charm and a goofy outtake reel to keep the audience from walking out on The Spy Next Door, which, in addition to its action/comedy duties, is a family movie.

Bob Lee (Chan) is a Chinese spy loaned to the C.I.A. roughly in the vein of his character in Rush Hour. Now he’s about to retire in hopes of having a more normal suburban life, hopefully one that includes a future with his neighbor Gillian (Amber Valletta), a woman he’s been seeing. His spy-career, however, isn’t the only thing that stands in the way of their happily ever after. Her kids — nerdy elementary schooler Ian (Will Shadley), princess-obsessed preschooler Nora (Alina Foley) and sass-stuffed teen Farren (Madeline Carroll), who snottily calls Gillian “Gill-i(eye-roll)-an” because she’s Farren’s stepmother — aren’t fond of Bob. They think he’s boring, and Farren in particular thinks he stands in the way of her father returning.

So imagine the highjinks that will ensue when Bob has to take care of the kids while Gillian leaves to deal with a family emergency. Add on supporting-spy-staff Billy Ray Cyrus and George Lopez (who has the movie’s sole laugh-out-loud funny line). Then multiply that by wacky Russian villains (yes, Russians, because it’s 1985) who are trying to destroy the country’s oil supply. Ho-ho-hi-larious.

Jackie Chan is graceful even if he’s only working at half speed. And it’s hard to actively hate anything he’s in — the man is just too darn good-natured. It’s like shaking your fist and yelling “damn you to hell” at a puppy — “damn you … awww” is as far as you’d yet. I’d feel even more ridiculous than this achingly familiar plot or the painfully hackneyed humor.

And I guess if, like, the power goes out in your house or your heater stops working and you need to spend a few hours killing time and soaking in somebody else’s heat, there are worse ways than lulling your children and yourself into a stupor at The Spy Next Door. But there are much much better ways to spend that 90 minutes too and you won’t get much heat or light generated by the movie itself. C-

Rated PG for sequences of action violence and some mild rude humor. Directed by Brian Levant and written by Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer and Gregory Poirier, The Spy Next Door is an hour and 32 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Lionsgate.