The Spy Next Door

The Spy Next Door. Relativity Media 2010.

Before watching the movie:

While the red and orange background isn’t all that unique, this poster design doesn’t do much to communicate that this is Spy Kids but with less imagination and more Jackie Chan. I’m probably always up for a Jackie Chan comedy, but the bar’s been set pretty low.

I had no idea that Billy Ray Cyrus or George Lopez were in this movie until I started looking for posters. I would’ve expected George Lopez to get more promotional focus, especially considering when the movie was made.

I’m just now noticing just how big a genre “kids doing superspy stuff” is. The ones that I think of, Spy Kids, “Kim Possible”, and Agent Cody Banks, are all early 2000s, but it seems to have come back recently with My Spy, and I know there are other notable examples from before the 90s, so I’m not sure if it’s an evergreen movie subject or if this is very late to cash in on some successful franchises.

After watching the movie:

Bob Ho is the geeky soft next door neighbor to Gillian, single mother of three: Farren, Ian, and Nora. Despite the fact that the kids see him as the boring pen importer they want no part of, Bob and Gillian have also been dating for a long time and Bob is planning on asking Gillian to marry him soon. Bob Ho is also a Chinese Intelligence agent on loan to the CIA. But after arresting terrorist Anton Poldark, he’s retired to settle down with Gillian and her family, provided he can get the kids to stop hating him. When Gillian needs to go out of town to see her father in the hospital, Bob volunteers to watch the kids for her and hopefully effect some bonding. Bob’s old partner Colton asks him to analyze an encrypted file they intercepted from Poldark’s organization, and he opens it at home, giving Ian the opportunity to misunderstand the filename as an obscure concert bootleg he gleefully downloads to his iPod. Poldark’s people trace the download to Bob’s address, and Poldark, escaped thanks to a CIA mole, sets his sights on recovering that file and eliminating any witnesses in the way.

I feel like if I’d seen this ten years ago, maybe I’d be more fond of it. Chan’s The Tuxedo wasn’t well-received, but I think it’s a fun fish out of water pastiche of the superspy genre. This should be too, but it feels a bit more rote. Bob Ho is the best of the best at spy work, but he’s pretty clueless about domestic life. Maybe that itself makes it less interesting to me. It’s a little more fun to see the mundane hero thrust into the extraordinary than the extraordinary hero coping with the mundane. The family bonding plot is sweet, but overall the movie feels a little more by the numbers than I would’ve liked. The bad guys are even generic evil Russians in 2010.

Even the choreography is a little less inventive than I’ve come to expect from Chan. The most unusual fight props are a pool skimmer and a refrigerator and the funniest fight move is just dual-wielding frying pans. The point is the everyday family setting, but I’m sure there are more interesting things that could have been interacted with in that setting. I guess I’m holding Chan to the high standard he’s set for himself in his career, and this isn’t necessarily a big enough movie for innovation.

I was pretty sure this movie wasn’t going to be all I wanted it to be, but it really seems like it could’ve been just a little more. Nobody’s talents seem to be used to the fullest, and everybody seems to be here to cash a check. If I’d been younger when I first saw it, maybe I’d have enjoyed it more, but this just left me pretty cold.

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