Monday, January 18, 2010


Clearly, Asian martial arts star Jackie Chan has seen better days. The nimble 55-year old actor performs little that is either fresh or funny in "The Spy Next Door" (*1/2 out of ****), a pale imitation of the 2005 Vin Diesel comedy "The Pacifier." Whereas Diesel had to deal with five adolescents, Chan contends with only three. Mind you, Jackie has not lost his natural born charisma, but the filmmakers have squandered his incredible talents in this hopelessly pedestrian potboiler. "Problem Child 2" director Brian Levant and "Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector" scenarists Jonathan Bernstein & James Greer and "Tomcats" scribe Gregory Poirier have assembled a plot so prefabricated in content that you will be one step of ahead of the heroes and the villains. George Lopez and Billy Ray Cyrus look similarly miserable in this live-action cartoon playing our hero's superior and sidekick. The most charitable thing to say about the country music crooner is he should leave the acting to Miley. The only decent thing about this lame comedy is the atmospheric, attention getting theme song "Secret Agent Man" that Johnny Rivers originally sang for the memorable Patrick McGoohan television series "Danger Man." In fact, the famous Rivers' rendition of "Secret Agent Man" appeared previously in the Tony Danza movie "She's Out of Control," an episode of ""The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!," "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery," and "Bowfinger." Like another much abused classic tune "Sweet Home Alabama," the song "Secret Agent Man" should be retired.

Essentially, Bob Ho (Jackie Chan of "Police Story") plays a Chinese Intelligence Agent working undercover as a pen salesman with the CIA. Our hero has fallen in love with his next door neighbor, beautiful single-mother Gillian (Amber Valletta of "Transporter 2"), who has three adorable children and a pet piglet. Oldest daughter Farren (Madeline Carroll of "Swing Vote") is actually her stepdaughter from the first unlucky marriage, while the two youngest, Ian (Will Shadley of "RoboDoc") and Nora (newcomer Alina Foley) are courtesy of a second failed marriage. Hints that her two husbands cheated on Gilliam are mentioned but the dirty details are left up in the air. This kind of sordid detail would never do in a light-hearted kid friendly PG-rated thriller. Nevertheless, our sweet heroine Gilliam has found the man of
her dreams. Bob has decided to retire and step into the shoes of a step-dad, but the kids hate Bob. They think that he is a nerd and a loser. During a dinner date, Gilliam reminds Bob she puts the happiness of her children before her own happiness. Bob knows he has his work cut out for him, but he rises to the challenge.

Things heat up when a top-secret formula for bacteria-eating goop is misplaced. Actually, Colton James (Billy Ray Cyrus of "Mulholland Drive") has sent it to Bob to check it out. Before Bob can analyze the formula, precocious Ian sneaks into Bob's house with his sisters and he downloads it to his iPod. Ian believes that he has acquired a cool concert that will impress the older kids at school who like to bully him. When they listen to it, all they hear is static and together they stuff poor Ian
into a trash receptacle. This bacteria-eating goop seems like a mild form of the top secret formula in "G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra." Anyway, Russian terrorist Poldark (newcomer Magnus Scheving), wants to wield this dangerous chemical formula to disintegrate the oil supply. Earlier, acrobatic Bob Ho captured Poldark, but somebody in the CIA allowed Poldark to escape, and Poldark teams back up with fellow
terrorist Creel (Katherine Boecher of "ShadowBox") who has a difficult time getting Poldark some suitable apparel.

Meanwhile, Amber is called away on a medical emergency to tend to her parents. Initially, she had planned for another relative to take care of her kids, but Bob insists that he can manage the kids. Away our heroine heads to Denver while the disgruntled kids plan to turn our hero upside down. Predictably, Bob has problems trying to keep up with the kids. He has to sling Nora up into the air to get her bedtime clothing on her. Consequently, he falls back on an array of spy equipment gadgets and gains control over his predicament. No sooner has Bob gotten into the swing of things, he has to take the kids out of school and relocate them to a safer setting until he can uncover the mole in the agency and defeat the Russian terrorists. Naturally, when Amber finds out that Bob has taken the kids out of school to protect them, she blows a gasket. Suddenly, those that hated our hero are now is biggest supporter, while Amber wants nothing to do with him.

You need not be a genius to figure out this opposites-only-attract epic is going to conclude with everybody hugging each other happily. Children under seven years of age may relish this nonsense, but adult Jackie Chan fans are going to cringe watching Chan rehash old routines and wear a pair of glasses that make him look incredibly nerdy. The villains in "The Spy Next Door" are more buffoonish than intimidating. The CIA and Chinese Intelligence find themselves pitted against Russians terrorists! The two Russian terrorists that complicate Jackie's plans are cast in the Boris and Natasha mode from the venerable cartoon series "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" where Boris and Natasha were a pair of devious Soviet espionage agents. Jackie Chan's American-made movies, with the exception of the "Rush Hour" trilogy and the two "Shanghai" westerns "Shanghai Noon" and "Shanghai Knights," are usually shoddy as well as second-rate, and "The Spy Next Door" maintains this execrable tradition.