Brian Levant’s The Spy Next Door opens with a montage of derring-do from old Jackie Chan flicks set to Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man.” Having already seen the dreadfully lame trailer for The Spy Next Door, I knew I was in for the long haul, but this opening did remind me that Jackie Chan once made fun movies. By the end of the film, all it did was make me believe that, yes, there are movies worse than The Tuxedo (2002).
The movie’s basic premise is one of those family-oriented affairs where some action star is emasculated and stuffed into goofy situations with precocious, rambunctious tots. Hulk Hogan made Mr. Nanny (1993), Vin Diesel did it with The Pacifier (2005) and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson appears bent on doing only this for the rest of his career.
Here, we get Chan as Bob Ho, a Chinese spy helping the CIA to catch a bunch of goofy Russian terrorists with bad accents. At the same time, Bob is smitten with his next-door neighbor (Amber Valetta), with the only issue keeping them from marriage being that her spoiled-brat kids can’t stand Bob. So it’s up to Bob to win over the kids and protect them from the evil Russkies, who show up to complicate matters.
Because of this, we get to see Jackie Chan do a lot of Jackie Chan stuff, which while admittedly neat, isn’t enough to save the movie from the onslaught of hokey familial humor and cartoonish hi-jinks. And it certainly doesn’t help that we also get Billy Ray Cyrus heehawing it up as a secret agent (what a frightening thought).
Even with all this against it, The Spy Next Door isn’t exactly a movie I can say I loathe — and this is based on Chan alone. He’s a hard man to hate (it usually takes the combined awfulness of Chris Tucker and Bret Ratner to accomplish this), and he seems to genuinely enjoy his work. The unfortunate aspect of all this is that the work he’s doing scales the heights of forgettableness. So instead of being egregiously horrendous, because of Chan, The Spy Next Door is more along the lines of painlessly insipid. I guess there’s something to be said for that. Rated PG for sequences of action violence and some mild rude humor.