Bob Ho (Jackie Chan) is an undercover CIA superspy who decides to give up his career in espionage to settle down with his next-door neighbour and girlfriend, Gillian (Amber Valletta). But Bob has one more mission to complete before Gillian agrees to marry him: winning over her three opinionated kids.
When Gillian suddenly has to leave town, Bob volunteers to babysit the children so he can earn their approval. But when one of the kids mistakenly downloads a top-secret formula from his computer, Bob's archenemy, a Russian terrorist, moves in for the attack, forcing Bob to juggle the roles of spy and prospective stepfather in the most challenging mission of his career!
Before I begin, let me state for the record that I am well aware someone like myself, who is in the middle of the 35-49 age demographic, is not the target audience for 'The Spy Next Door.' I get that it's a children's movie, yet I don't think that means filmmakers should be let off the hook for delivering shoddy work. Would it be okay for a chef to deliver a terrible meal to kids because he thinks their tastes aren't refined and they might not know the difference? Even Chuck E. Cheese has some pride!
Jackie Chan is secret agent Bob Ho, working in the U.S. on loan from China. The audience is shown a series of clips from Chan's other films during the opening credits, presumably to show Bob on assignment, but it only reminds us that there's much better Chan material out there to be watching.
Bob is planning to retire after his current assignment because he is in love with his neighbor Gillian (Amber Valletta), who doesn't appear to know much about Bob other than he's a nice guy. Naturally, her three kids hate him, but they understandably have issues with men because their dad has run out on them. The issue is never explored, and is made more peculiar when we later discover the oldest child, overly bratty Farren (Madeline Carroll), is Gillian's stepdaughter, so the dad looks even worse for leaving her with someone not related.
Bob apprehends Russian spy Poldark (Magnús Scheving), who quickly escapes CIA custody, likely due to a mole. Since we only meet two characters from the agency, supervisor Glaze (George Lopez) and Colton James (Billy Ray Cyrus) who assist from the office while Bob is in the field. It's rather obvious who the traitor is, and he doesn't have a good reason for betraying his country.
Conveniently, Gillian has to leave for Denver to help take care of her father. Bob volunteers to take care of the kids to get to know them better. They are unhappy about this and give him nothing but attitude and trouble, but he is able to wear them down, appealing to them all in different ways.
Ian (Will Shadley) the middle child is a nerd and rather annoying. He plays pranks on Farren and gets picked on by bullies at school. He gets access to Bob's computer and downloads what he thinks is a bootleg concert but instead inadvertently winds up with Poldark's secret plans involving petroleum-eating bacteria, which is unfortunately timely and doesn’t seem like the weapon of a villain with the current BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Poldark has his men track down the computer's whereabouts and sends them to retrieve the information and capture those responsible.
Bob's two lives come together as he has to fend off the villains while keeping the children safe. After protecting them in one action sequence set in a restaurant, the kids contact Jillian and she quickly returns to get them. Once home, she breaks up with Bob for putting her children in danger though she accepts no responsibility. Of course, the children now like Bob, so it's supposed to be sad that they are being separated. Spoiler Alert - Being a children's film, there's no surprise when everything gets wrapped up nice and neat, happily ever after.
Jackie Chan proves he's a movie star since his charming screen presence and ability to carry out stunts are the only things that make watching 'The Spy Next Door' tolerable. He has good comic moments and the stunt scenes, though not up to his usual caliber, are decent, though the wire work is bad. Otherwise the movie fails at almost every level.
The rest of the performances are poor. The child actors are a bit hammy. The villains are barely one-dimensional characters; Cyrus sounds like he's reading his lines, which when intended to be funny are frequently groan inducing. Lopez just phones in his performance and doesn't know how to hold a gun. The script, which remarkably is credited to three people, is as unimaginative as the direction by Bernard Levant. The producers seem focused on making a quick buck without considering the quality of their family film. In fact, they seem to care less about children than the adults in this movie do.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate brings 'The Spy Next Door' to high-definition on a BD-25 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase and the Combo Pack comes with a DVD. After two trailers, the disc goes to the menu. The Blu-ray is reported to be Region A.
'The Spy Next Door' is presented with a 1080p/ AVC MPEG-4 transfer in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. I found it to be average for Blu-ray as no aspect wowed or disappointed and certainly none of the young children watching are going to care.
There's slight grain seen throughout. The natural hues of director of photography Dean Cundey's color palette are well rendered whether it's the slightly warmer colors when Bob is home with the kids or the slightly colder ones that usually occur when Bob is working. Blacks don't come out as well, as crush appears and shadow delineation can be weak at times, particularly in some fight scenes.
The images are sharp and frequently provide a good amount of detail especially in the brighter-lit scenes. Fabric textures and individual strands of hair are standouts. Depth is apparent throughout and the video appears error free.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is one of the few elements that doesn’t disappoint and will make the movie more engaging for kids.
The dialogue is clear, although young children may have difficulty with Chan's accent. The effects come through very clean. Weapons can be heard hitting against each other, and there's very good movement through the soundfield as they fly about. The music mixes in evenly with both elements, and altogether they demonstrate a more than adequate dynamic range. Scenes away from home, such as the school or any of the action sequences, are where the surrounds deliver very good ambiance, and it’s the latter where the subwoofer comes to life.
Life is too short to spend time with bad entertainment, so I can't recommend 'The Spy Next Door,' even to baby-sit kids. If a child finds it on his own, there's nothing offensive for parents to worry about, and it may serve as an introduction to Jackie Chan, which is the one good thing to come out of it.