The Spy Next Door

cast: Jackie Chan, Amber Valletta, Billy Ray Cyrus, Madeline Carroll, and Will Shadley

director: Brian Levant

90 minutes (PG) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
review by Gary McMahon

The Spy Next Door

Jackie Chan takes time off his usual high-octane adult films and showcases his softer side, in this silly children’s film that still allows him to flex his martial muscles with some breathtaking set-pieces and wedge in a few laughs along the way.

Here he stars as Bob Ho, a former CIA spy who is trying to lead a normal life in retirement in sunny suburbia. He is in a serious relationship with the woman next door but her kids hate him – they think he’s dull and nowhere near good enough for their mother. Then Ho’s past comes calling, and he’s drawn into a web of intrigue where his girlfriend’s kids are placed in danger from his enemies.

So far, so clichéd… As plots go, this is a by-the-numbers kiddie-friendly espionage pot-boiler that ticks all the bland commercial boxes. But this film has one up on others of its type, because it’s got Jackie Chan. Even here, cast as a somewhat bumbling bloke who comes into his own while on the job, his athletic ability and skills as a physical comedian shine. I’ve always thought that Chan stood out from the crowd because of his innate comedic talent: he knows how to use his body to make us laugh. Even the most dangerous stunts are funny, and there’s plenty of this bravado physicality on show here.

Schwarzenegger, Vin Diesel, Chuck Norris, and even Burt Reynolds have trodden this ground before, but Chan just about makes it work because you can’t dislike him, no matter how hard you try. Yes, the plot is boring and predictable and the direction is pancake-flat, but the action scenes are graceful and exciting, as only Chan can make them – Jackie Chan lite is still Jackie Chan, and that’s always worth seeing. Even the presence of the talent void that is Billy Ray Cyrus can’t detract from Chan’s unique gifts as a physical performer.

My six-year-old son absolutely adored The Spy Next Door, and that’s a good enough recommendation for me.