I might class this as a science fiction movie because it has a little bit of science and a whole lot of fiction – and because any excuse is good enough to watch and write about Jackie Chan.
The Spy Next Door looks like the kind of movie that would have been intended as a vehicle for Vin Diesel or Arnie back in the day, in which case it would not have been worth a second glance. Tough guy+cute kids=yawnfest.
Jackie Chan – I can’t cook noodles in these!
But that it’s a Jackie Chan vehicle makes it a lot more interesting. For one thing, Chan is not your stereotypical tough guy. As Chris Tucker repeatedly reminded him in the Rush Hour movies, he’s not tall, or muscle bound. As Chan said himself, he’s cute, like Snoopy. So right there this movie breaks the mold. He looks comfortably nerdish in his Clark Kent disguise, and still moves like a whip when he becomes the master spy.
The next surprise is the kids – usually so unbearable so as to make you throw your popcorn at the screen, this bunch is surprisingly likeable. Sure, they make their stepfather-to-be’s life hell, but there’s a lot more character development than is usual, and these kids are actually lifelike. Madeleine Carroll, Will Shadley and cute little Alina Foley give great performances. You still want to throttle them occasionally, but no more than your own kids.
Wisely, the fiance/mother (Amber Valetta) is swept out of sight on a family mission early in the piece, thereby setting up Jackie just to interact with the kids. Yes, it’s a cliché, but this time it really works. Jackie uses his spy tools to help him cope and there are genuinely funny scenes of him struggling with oatmeal, sitting through an episode of bedtime sugar rush, and dealing with an unwanted boyfriend (who turns out to be far more than he seems).
Another pleasant surprise is Billy Ray Cyrus as Chan’s sidekick. It’s good to see the achey breaky guy making such strides in his acting career. Miley, take a bow, you showed us that your dad is a very good comedy actor.
Billy Ray – not bad, dad
The villains are in a class by themselves. Anyone who doesn’t crack up at the arch villain Poldark’s parade of inappropriate outfits must be made of stone. Magnus Scheving is perfect in the role. Kids will recognise the Icelandic actor as Sportacus in Lazy Town, but adults will be thrilled with his comedic talent in this movie.
“How quickly can you get me orange jumpsuit?”
Katherine Boecher as Creel, a Russian terrorist in a fearsome blonde wig is side splitting. But one of the funniest moments may be unintentional, when the CIA mole tells Jackie he has to kill the family because “they’ve seen too much.” What? The whole neighbourhood saw it!
The Chan charm is legendary but doesn’t always work well in a standard Hollywood movie – The Tuxedo is a case in point. However, when it does work, as in The Spy Next Door and Rush Hour, it is irresistible.