Jackie Chan is a one of a kind. Not only is he known for his incredible martial arts skills but in most of his films, he comes off as a charming guy who wants to make his audiences have fun while watching his many films. Over time, we have seen Chan fight criminals in the stickiest situations as well as save the day. As time progressed and Chan got older and older, he started to make more family friendly, less violent movies such as The Tuxedo and The Medallion. To me, those are prime examples that Jackie Chan wants to inspire people with his skills and his integrity to make audiences happy by doing what he does best. The films may have many flaws but there’s no doubt that they put smiles on a lot of young people’s faces. He now stars in The Spy Next Door, yet another family film where Chan’s heart is into the project, however everyone else’s heart is not into it and thus, the film ends up being a somber misstep for the actor/martial artist.
After completing his last mission and putting the bad guy, Poldark, played by Magnús Scheving, behind bars, undercover CIA spy Bob Ho, played by Jackie Chan, decides to retire from the position. Ho has dreams of settling down with his girlfriend and her children and leading a nice, quiet family life. There’s a problem though; the children hate him. They think he’s just a boring, old man. Bob has an idea though. When an emergency occurs causing the girlfriend to go out of town, Bob offers to take care of the children in hopes to win over their trust and respect. However, when Poldark escapes and a top secret file containing a dangerous formula is downloaded by one of the youngsters, Poldark is determined to track down who has his formula as well as take care of Bob Ho. Bob may be done with being a CIA spy but Poldark’s unfinished business is not finished with him.
The Spy Next Door is supposed to be a fun action film for youngsters, I couldn’t help but feel sad for Chan. In the beginning, a montage of Chan’s previous work plays. We see clips from his past movies showing him taking on criminals and climbing his way out of tight situations. This is supposed to represent Bob’s previous missions and to show how much trouble he’s gone through in order to bring justice and lay down the law. For the following runtime, we see Ho fight his way through criminals but by using the goofiest tactics. In one scene, Ho uses a chair to fight off a bad guy just by simply hitting him over the head with it. We then see the criminal act as if he was in a cartoon, make a silly face, and fall down. In another scene, we see Ho use a turtle in combat. This fight sounds innovative and cool to some but the execution ends up being weak and goofy. In fact, that’s a great segwey into what this movie feels like, really weak and really goofy. The whole time Ho is fighting off bad guys in over-the-top situations just made me feel disconnected and nostalgic. I just kept remembering that first montage of Jackie Chan pulling off so many cool fight sequences in single shots and those fights being so well designed. When I see Chan being reduced to over-the-top acting and beating up people with pots and pans in an obviously choreographed way, it makes me wish the movie would just give audience members what they want; fun martial arts action that we can believe in and that we care about. The weapons of choice could be neat but the action is directed in such a lame, stagy style that the audience isn’t enthused and we end up shrugging off the lame sequences. The director, Brian Levant, also cannot direct his actors at all; let alone child actors. The acting by the older actors feels artificial and exaggerated while the children look like they have a hard time smiling. There are reaction shots in this film that look so unnatural and phoney that the film ends up drifting into a unintentionally funny territory. Altogether, the direction is a lethargic mess.
The movie not only has problems with its helmer but I found the technical elements also played a strong role in making this film unintentionally hilarious. First of all, the editing is very tedious. Throughout the film, its pretty mundane editing wise; nothing fancy and nothing spectacular. However, when there is a transition from one location to another, the editing is extremely exaggerated and distracting. When one of the children downloads the file onto their iPod, the movie jumps into the computer. We travel through the wires, we see lots of sparks and bright flashes. I think I even saw a periodic table flash by. Why? No clue but to show how action packed transferring data can be. Does the editing sound distressing yet? How about when there’s a scene where Ho is approaching a base and the film switches to inferred, then switches to a security camera view as text scrolls at lightning speed of where this base is located. Did I mention that Ho isn’t wearing inferred goggles? These are just two examples of how frenetic and foolish the transitions perform. They amount to being so exaggerated that they become inappropriate. Speaking of inappropriate, I found the music choices to take me out of the action sequences. Over some of the fight scenes, we get this knock off James Bond score that sounds like it’s being played by a jazz quartet with broken instruments. With this poor music selection accompanying the laughable fight sequences edited by a seemingly unexperienced editor, the scenes derive into a collection of moronic clutter.
I really wanted to have a fun time with The Spy Next Door. I didn’t want it to fall into a forgettable void but, alas, it does. The comedy doesn’t work, the stunts and fights are lifeless, the acting is cardboard, and it left me wanting more, a lot more. What could’ve been a fun, entertaining family action movie ends up being a drab, lame ordeal.