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The Spy Next Door

Action & Adventure and Art House & International movie directed by Brian Levant

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Undercover Babysitter

  • Jan 25, 2010
  • by
Do you know what it's like to see miscast actors fail miserably at making something out of nothing? Presenting "The Spy Next Door." Watching this movie is a painful experience, not only because it tells an unbelievably strained story, but also because no one seems to fit into their role. And yes, this goes double for the star, Jackie Chan. Had he not been required to be anything more than a stuntman, then maybe (and I really do mean maybe) this film would have worked as an escapist family comedy. Alas, he also had to be a foil for three bratty kids as well as a romantic lead, and I don't think I can even begin to describe how unconvincing he is at both. He must have known there was a problem, because there are times when you can see on his face that he isn't having any fun. If it's difficult for him, imagine what it's like for the audience.

Chan plays Bob Ho, an undercover CIA agent who wants to retire and marry his next door neighbor, Gillian (Amber Valletta), having secretly dated her for some time. Bob assumes the role of the average guy next door by acting geeky and wearing glasses, which is fine if you like laughing at him, not with him. Gillian ... well, she's just Gillian, having no discernable personality or quirk that would make her even slightly interesting. The one scene of the two having dinner together is enough to make it clear that a union of any kind is inconceivable. There's absolutely no chemistry between them. Chan might as well have been speaking to Valletta in his native Cantonese - the effect would be more or less the same.

The problem for Bob is that Gillian is a single mom, and her children absolutely despise him. Farren (Madeline Carroll) is your typical moody teenager, always angry, always disrespectful, always referring to Gillian by her first name because she's technically her stepmother. There are moments when her attitude is so bad that you just want to slap her across the face. Ian (Will Shadley) is a super-smart, technically savvy, thrill-seeking middle-schooler who regularly lies in a desperate effort to be "cool," especially with girls. There is not a trace of truth in this character; he doesn't even work as a parody of the precocious kid. The youngest is four-year-old Nora (Alina Foley), who's so cute that it's downright nauseating; she's a girly-girl who likes kitties and princess costumes and the color pink, and she can never speak without dropping her R's like Elmer Fudd.

When Gillian is called away from home, Bob volunteers to take care of her children, who, of course, do what they can to make his life a living hell. But then things turn sinister: Bob's last captive, a Russian terrorist named Poldark (Magnus Scheving), has escaped from prison and is plotting to evaporate the world's oil supplies with a special solution, the formula of which just happened to be downloaded from Bob's computer onto Ian's iPod. Yeah, I know. Anyway, as Bob tries to bond with Gillian's kids, he must also fight off scores of bad guys in a series of action sequences. Believe me, they're not as entertaining as the ads make them seem.

Helping Bob along are his former CIA partners Glaze (George Lopez) and Colton (Billy Ray Cyrus), the latter given dialogue that even Dr. Phil would think is hokey. Consider this helpful bit of advice for Bob: "Don't get married. Just find some woman you're gonna hate in five years and give her your house." Think about the demographic this film is aimed towards. Do you honestly think it will laugh at that joke? Then again, who's to say that adults will laugh at it? There were plenty of parents in the theater the day I saw it, and I didn't hear so much as a snicker from any of them. I didn't hear much out of the little ones either, although I distinctly remember a young girl, maybe around six years old, asking her father for a sip of his soda.

Someone should take this as a sign. What do we mean by subjecting younger audiences to this? Is Hollywood really so drained of imagination? There's such little creativity in "The Spy Next Door," it's as if the filmmakers believe that today's kids are nothing more than mindless drones that will laugh at anything, even at things that are anything but funny. Consider this throwaway gag featuring the children's pet pig: At breakfast, Ian sneaks a few pieces of bacon under the table for the pig to eat, and it does. "That's just wrong," observes Farren, which is correct, except that the scene plays as a lighthearted joke instead of a disturbing visual. There's nothing amusing about this, and the fact that the writers thought differently is downright deplorable.

In 2006, Jackie Chan apologized for interrupting a concert in Hong Kong while under the influence. If he knows what's good for him, he will apologize for making "The Spy Next Door." Since we pay in excess of $9.00 for a movie ticket these days, I think it's the least he can do for us.

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More The Spy Next Door reviews
review by . July 01, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
I personally felt The Spy Next Door was cute but very formulaic. It's probably good for kids, but isn't nearly as funny as most of Jackie Chan's movies (certainly not like Rush Hour series). The acting for the villains is so bad and poorly done (basically overdone Russians) that it's sad. The kids are generally fun and lively, and Jackie Chan has some funny moments. But there's nothing particularly special about this movie. In fact, while watching the movie, I felt like I had seen it before. Sure …
Quick Tip by . January 28, 2010
Typical JC action movie. Boring. Reminds me of a combo of Tootsie & Spy Kids Nothing new here even for Jacky fans. Same old stuff.
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie


Spy missions for the CIA may be difficult and dangerous, but they're nothing compared to the challenges of raising a family. Bob Ho (Jackie Chan) is a Chinese spy on loan to the CIA, but to Gillian (Amber Valletta) and her kids Farren (Madeline Carroll), Ian (Will Shadley), and Nora (Alina Foley), he's just a neighbor and pen salesman. Gillian and Bob are attracted to one another, and Bob is ready to tell Gillian what he really does for a living. He's prepared to retire from his career in espionage so they can take their relationship to the next level. Unfortunately for Bob, Gillian's kids are less than impressed with their nerdy neighbor, and that means his relationship with Gillian can't move forward. When Gillian has to leave town suddenly, Bob volunteers to take care of the children in hopes of "making them" like him. Ian inadvertently downloads a secret file from Bob's computer, and suddenly the Russian terrorist Poldark (Magnus Sheving) is bent on destroying Bob and the children. As if Bob weren't having enough trouble negotiating the daily duties of making the children's breakfast, getting them to school, and keeping track of young Nora in the local mall, he unexpectedly discovers that one of his CIA coworkers is working for the Russians (George Lopez and Billy Ray Cyrus play Bob's colleagues). Bob finds himself alone in the fight of a lifetime as he battles to keep the children safe from the violent Russian and his ...
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Genre: Action, Adventure, Foreign
DVD Release Date: May 18, 2010
Runtime: 94 minutes
Studio: Lionsgate
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"Undercover Babysitter"
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