The other night, the kids and I were treated to a screening of The Spy Next Door, a cute new movie starring Jackie Chan as a quiet, sweet man with a secret life as an ass-kicking spy. He’s dating the single mom next door (Amber Valetta) and naturally her kids think that he’s totally lame. (Those are the kids in the picture with Jackie Chan, l-r: Alina Foley, Madeline Carroll and Will Shadley.)
Kids’ movies are difficult to review. Whenever I review anything, I try to keep in mind the intended audience/buyer. This movie is made for kids, so the most important thing to know is that my kids absolutely adored it. Fiona, five, totally identified with the youngest pink-loving daughter, and Jake, eight, laughed and cheered through the whole thing. Except for the end. I will not tell you what he did at the end, because I would never embarrass him like that. For all I know, his little school friends spend their free time reading mommy-blogs. I will say that it’s a unique movie that can make an eight-year-old boy laugh, cheer, and wipe his eyes on his shirt.
There’s a lot of violence in this movie. I mean come on, it’s a Jackie Chan movie. But there’s only a tiny amount of blood, and the fights manage to be somewhat realistic (due to Chan’s amazing martial arts talents) while at the same time not being scary or brutal. It’s kind of like when you watch Wile E. Coyote nearly kill himself in pursuit of the Road Runner: it’s violent, but you still know it’s fake. There’s also a good amount of smart-ass-ness from the kids, but it’s not overwhelming.
So that’s the kid part of the review. The adult part is more complicated. I think Jackie Chan really gave it his all in this movie. He has some sweet moments, and he’s completely and totally endearing. But there’s something – I think it’s a language thing – that gets in the way of his acting. It’s not painful to watch or anything like that, but it’s just not great. Still, his heart is in the role and he works hard to connect with the kids. I just wanted him to be a lot better than he was.
The supporting cast doesn’t quite get there either. Billy Ray Cyrus is a singer. George Lopez is a comedian. Both of them are fine, passable, they made my kids laugh. But great actors? No. And I think that’s the problem: when you have someone like Jackie Chan anchoring a movie in a language that’s not his own, where he has to rely on more than his physical skills, the smart thing to do is to surround him with great character actors who can carry him. There’s nobody carrying him in this movie. Amber Valetta comes closest, but she does not have a very solid acting background and is just not up to the task. They should have brought in a heavy-hitter.
The two villains, Katherine Boecher and Magnus Scheving (whom you might know as Sportacus from LazyTown), are great, but they’re really not acting so much as chewing the scenery in full Boris-and-Natasha mode. Still, they’re very entertaining.
I don’t know what the weather will be like where you are on Sunday, but it’s supposed to rain here in Brooklyn. Seeing this movie would not be a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon. Your kids will love it, and you’ll survive just fine.
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