The Spy Next Door
Directed by Brian Levant. Starring Jackie Chan, Amber Valletta, George Lopez, Billy Ray Cyrus, Madeline Carroll, Will Shadley, Magnús Scheving, Alina Foley, Lucas Till. (2010, PG, 92 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 22, 2010
There was a time when the arrival of a new Jackie Chan movie was an event to be celebrated, a film to be seen, and its own hybrid art form, combining incandescent star wattage and impossibly entertaining physicality – a thing to be marveled over, really. But that was last century, and the Chan we knew and loved, the Chan who contorted (and frequently fractured) his lithe, Peking Opera-trained body into a spellbinding, often comic, acrobatic exclamation point on the very tip of action cinema, has been missing for years now. The once-great Chan of Police Story, Police Story 2, and City Hunter (nobody's favorite, but a comic gem compared to his recent output) has all but vanished into a consistently forgettable rut of ridiculous, kid-friendly fare, including but not limited to the cookie-cutter Rush Hour franchise and bizarro string of misfires The Suit, The Myth, The Medallion, The Tuxedo, and now The Spy Next Door. But where is The Chan? True, he briefly returned to form with 2008's terrifically entertaining Shaw Brothers homage The Forbidden Kingdom, but that appears to have been a one-off bit of old-school revelry. Certainly the Chan of yore is nowhere to be found in The Spy Next Door, which casts the actor as Bob Ho (haw!), a deep-cover CIA spook with parenting issues. Spy recycles the most irritating and silly parts of recent Chan films and then adds both children and – the end has got to be nigh, seriously – Billy Ray Cyrus into the mix. The effect is unsettling, but the heart does ache and does break to see the gravitationally noncommittal martial artist and quick-witted comic genius pulling musty, moth-eaten pratfalls from his bag of tricks in lieu of actual kickassery. Chan is by (most, but not all) accounts 56 years old now, so it's reasonable to expect less manic vigor and potentially life-threatening stuntwork from the man, but nobody of Chan's legendary stature should ever have to play second banana to George Lopez, and certainly not in a film that was already made five years ago with Vin Diesel (see: The Pacifier).