Short Version: If you have pre-teen kids, they'll probably have a great time watching the action and humor in The Spy Next Door - and it’s enjoyable enough for parents, too.
Screen Rant's Paul Young reviews The Spy Next Door
My expectations weren’t very high going into the theater to watch The Spy Next Door - but since my 7 year old daughter seemed excited to watch it, I figured I’d take her and go tough it out. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the movie is actually pretty good. Sure it has a ridiculous plot, over-the-top bad guys with bumbling henchmen and second rate secondary characters played by former country singing, mullet wearing, fathers of a pre-teen Disney show - but it also manages to stay on task by keeping the story consistent and coherent enough for children to follow.
The movie opens with a great montage of Chan doing spy work all around the world - but to the discerning eye, it’s a great collection of scenes from Chan’s previous films. I couldn’t keep up with all of them but I saw scenes from Rush Hour, The Medallion, The Tuxedo, New Police Story, The Accidental Spy, Who Am I?, Mr. Nice Guy, Operation Condor, and Supercop. I’m sure there were a bunch I missed, but as a long time Jackie Chan fan it was a great surprise to have those scenes thrown at me.
Chan is Bob Ho, an international super spy on loan to the CIA from the Chinese government to help track down and catch the Russian terrorist Poldark (Mangus Scheving) before he can cause worldwide chaos. Ho’s partner is Colton James (Billy Ray Cyrus) and with his help and a bunch of spy gadgets, they capture Poldark at an oil refinery.
Soon thereafter, Poldark escapes with the help of his beautiful and dangerous 2nd in command Creel (Katherine Becher). Poldark has surrounded himself with the classic bumbling bad guys for support. They never do anything correctly the first time, and can be easily outsmarted by a 4 year old girl; it’s exactly the kind of bad guy children love to see on screen.
After capturing Poldark the first time, Ho decides to retire from spying to try and have a normal relationship and a normal life. In this case, normal would be falling in love with his single mom neighbor, Gillian (Amber Valletta), but she comes with “baggage” in the form of her three kids , Farren , Ian, and Nora. In order to marry Gillian, Ho must first be accepted by her kids, a task that makes spying look easy.
Ian and Nora are Gillian’s kids by birth but Farren is her step-daughter, something Farren uses as an excuse to unleash a fair amount of disrespectful and defiant behavior towards her. Farren’s father left them unexpectedly, and instead of being mad at him, Farren is mad at Gillian. It’s a classic example of pre-teen angst in that situation and unfortunately it happens more often than it should in real life. Ian is a brainiac, nerdy kid that gets wedgies and has his head shoved into trash cans at school, while Nora is an adorable little girl that loves pink and dressing up like a princess.
When Gillian suddenly has to go out of town for a family emergency, Ho volunteers to stay with the kids to try and get them to like him. He finds his spy skills coming in very handy trying to keep up with them as he prepares breakfast, takes them to school and goes shopping at the mall. After a while (as expected), Farren learns to respect him, Ian finds him cool and Nora, well she loved him from the get-go.
Meanwhile, Poldark is busy working on a bacteria formula that will eat anything petroleum-based and he plans to use it on the world’s oil reserves, which would leave Russia as the sole supplier of the world’s oil. Like I said, a ridiculous plot, but it serves its purpose just fine here because of course the formula was stolen and sent to Ho and then taken in error by Ian. Now the bad guys want their formula back and they send hit man to retrieve it from Ho.
This is where the action scenes come into play and even though there is some wire work being done, Chan once again proves why he is the go-to guy for martial arts comedy. Each scene is masterfully choreographed and director Brian Levant does a good job of pulling the camera back so that the audience can fully appreciate the work Chan does. My favorite fight scene is in the backyard by the pool where Chan fights off three bad guys while a scared four year old grips tightly to his leg. Truly amazing.
The Spy Next Door has a decent wrap up to the story where Ho gets the girl, Poldark gets arrested and the kids get to use spy gear to help make it happen.
This movie works because of Jackie Chan’s ability to entertain with humor through his acting and action scenes. So if you're looking for something to take your pre-teen to this week that is not a cartoon and doesn't have CGI chipmunks as the main characters, then you should consider The Spy Next Door. I know my 7 year old was giggling and laughing the whole time and for that very reason, The Spy Next Door should be considered a success.