In a cruelly misguided tease, the opening-credits sequence in the grating Jackie Chan comedy The Spy Next Door show off his credentials in a montage of footage from a decade or two ago, when Chan was at the height of his powers. For a few minutes, audiences are reminded of what a unique talent he once was, an entertainer and martial artist willing to risk life and limb for a crazy stunt or a bit of slapstick. But once the credits are over, the film can’t paper over the reality that Chan is in his mid-50s, and while he’s exceptionally nimble for his age, he simply can’t pull off the kung-fu Buster Keaton shtick any longer. And as his physical skills have diminished, his mugging skills have sadly increased.
A cynical hybrid of family-friendly blockbusters past—The Pacifier, Home Alone, and Spy Kids being the most prominent influences—The Spy Next Door stars Chan as a daredevil secret agent who lives in the suburbs and pretends to be a boring pen importer. He wants to take the next step with girlfriend Amber Valletta, but her three bratty kids haven’t warmed to his Clark Kent persona, partly because they’re still holding out for their father to return. When Valletta gets called away for a few days, Chan eagerly volunteers to look after the kids, but one of them accidentally downloads some highly coveted information. Soon enough, the four are fending off comically inept bad guys, Macaulay Culkin-style.
The Spy Next Door follows Brian Levant’s long track record of pandering, PG-rated family comedies that look like bad TV (and sometimes are adapted from it): Problem Child 2, Beethoven, Jingle All The Way, both Flintstones movies, a straight-to-DVD live-action Scooby-Doo sequel. Casting Billy Ray Cyrus and George Lopez as the least and second-least likely secret agents imaginable says everything about Levant’s fidelity to demographic charts, but Chan’s anything-goes affability keeps the film from scraping bottom. Limited to a few minor parkour moves and an above-the-belt fighting style that’s more like John Saxon in Enter The Dragon than the Chan of old, he’s still giving 100 percent, even if that’s often way too much.