Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Spy Next Door

All In A Day's Work

While we anticipate Jackie Chan's Asian production with Little Big Soldier this Lunar New Year, he continues his journey in the West with yet another kid and family friendly production with The Spy Next Door, which would fit into the Disney Channel stable given Chan's penchant to appeal to the lowest denominator to draw in the family crowd, and you know just how safe the stunts of Hollywood tend to be when appealing to this demographic.

Which leaves The Spy Next Door pretty much a departure from contemporary adventure flicks which tend to draw upon violence and gore in its action sequences, to keep it within a safe, acceptable rating. Jackie Chan plays Bob Ho, a man with as much personality as his any of his past heroes, which tend to be cop / secret agent belonging to the Hong Kong / Chinese police / spy agency, and here he's on loan to the CIA because of warming Sino-US relations. For years he's been helping out and solving what the Americans cannot, keeping in line with Hollywood's trend of putting China in good light, and he does so undercover and under fake glasses, living next to a divorcee (played by Amber Valletta) whom he fancies, and her three kids.

They do not know his identity as his cover is as a geeky pen salesman, and like any super-hero film, has to keep his identity, abilities and tools a secret, which you know will be threatened for exposure as he grows closer to the family, wanting to take his relationship with Valletta's Gillian to the next step, and working toward seeking acceptance from her children, only for a Russian criminal to escape and threaten the world's oil reserve, and having to grapple with a mole within the CIA. Sounds complicated, but it actually isn't, really, especially when the main villain (Magnus Scheving) spends a lot of his time trying to look trendy and fashionable.

If there's something that will appeal, it'll be two items. First up the opening credit montage which played like a celebration to Chan's illustrious career as an action hero, where you get to see clips from classics such as Hong Kong's Armour of God when he was at his peak, to disasters like Hollywood's Tuxedo when he sold out to the West. Then there's even some drawing from Chan's own real life experiences in his character's monologue about love and family, exploited to add certain emotional gravitas in an otherwise empty film that spends fleeting moments in its underdeveloped subplots about the adventures in parenting/babysitting, from the youngest daughter with a fetish for anything pink, the only son who's a school-bully fodder trying too hard to be cool in school, and an eldest daughter with the usual rebellious teenage attitude problem.

With Jackie Chan growing older and slowing down, this shows up in the carefully crafted action sequences, which while I didn't notice any obvious signs of a stunt double, the stunts performed here are quite the walk in the park for Chan many years ago, where I remember being thrilled by the money-shot stunt sequences that each of his films would highlight. Of late there's none and he seems to be relying on his past laurels, though “improvised” fights and acrobatics that Chan is famous for, still has enough legs to entertain, especially when battling the bad guys in closed quarters using everyday household items. If anything, there's a number of obvious wire-work that you know Hollywood would dabble with, either for stunt safety reasons, for laughs, or just to plain exaggerate.

The Spy Next Door works as a family popcorn movie, keeping a lot of things safe and will entertain any 5 year old kid. Stay tuned during the end credits with hilarious outtakes from the film, and you see that JC still struggles with the English language.

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