“It doesn’t look like they have chicken tenders here.”
How can you not like Jackie Chan? If there has been a more versatile action or martial arts star, I haven’t heard from him. The man made a name for himself in China’s film industry as a remarkable martial arts performer. For decades he’s been the closest thing the film industry has seen to Bruce Lee. But, unlike Lee, Chan wasn’t content with being the best in a single genre. When he finally came to Hollywood, he decided it was a good idea to work a bit more lightheartedness into his films, something he had already begun to do in his homeland, China. The result made him a unique personality on film. It didn’t matter if it was straight-out comedy like the Rush Hour or Shanghai films or more serious action adventures like his Police Story outings. Chan is first and foremost … Chan, not just an action hero. Not afraid to poke fun at himself, he’s become a reliable property at the box office.
The Spy Next Door combines some of the best of these characteristics. In the past he’s relied on a more established comedic partner to help carry the comedy. This time it’s just Jackie Chan and the bad guys … and the kids.
“It doesn’t look like they have chicken tenders here, either.”
International superspy Bob Ho (Chan) is just finishing his last job on loan to the CIA. When that job is finally over he intends to get out of the spy game and settle down with his girl Gillian (Valletta) and her three children. Unfortunately for Ho, the kids are not very fond of him. They think he’s a boring geek who sells pens for a living. When Gillian has to go away for a few days, she decides it would be a great time to have Ho babysit the kids, and they can bond. It all sounds like a perfect plan, except super-villain Poldark (Scheving) has escaped during his transport. When one of the kids, Ian (Shadley) downloads a file from Ho’s computer, thinking it was a hip bootleg concert, it sends a signal to Poldark revealing Ho’s, and the children’s, location. Now he’s got to bond with kids who hate him and fight off an international criminal mastermind. One of these jobs is liable to kill him.
“If you want to be a spy, never tell the truth to the bad guy.”
For years Jackie Chan has had to deal with huge criticism that he’s a one-note actor. I saw that kind of review when the film was in the theaters last January. I guess I just don’t get it, or they don’t. The same folks who idolize a guy like Bruce Lee appear to fault Chan for being too much of the same thing. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Chan’s style has allowed him to reach out to a much larger audience than Lee ever had. He’s extremely likable. Fault him for that grin of his, but it makes him far more personable than I usually associate with martial arts stars. The comedy element appears to make it fun for the actor. The truth is he always looks like he’s having a blast. That sort of thing is contagious. I like it when I feel like the actor was having a good time. It makes me feel more like I should be having a good time as well. It’s apparently not considered an insult with his core action fans. Chan is the biggest star in China. He’s loved in Hong Kong. There, everything he touches turns to gold. Some people just don’t like to see the rest of us have a good time.
If you have kids, this one is a complete no-brainer. There’s plenty here to keep the little ones entertained. You’ll find plenty of humorous action. There’s mustache twirling bad guys. And there’s three young kids that have wonderful chemistry with star Jackie Chan. Will Shadley plays Ian, who fantasizes himself a spy like Ho once he learns the truth. He’s going to get himself and Ho in a ton of trouble. Madeline Carroll is the oldest girl Farren, who is used to adults giving up on her and the most skeptical of Ho. The gem of the cast is young Alina Foley as the youngest child Nora. Alina doesn’t really have to do much acting here. All she has to do is look at the camera and you’re going to melt, unless you’re some kind of a monster. Chan appears to have great rapport with her in particular. He really loves working with them, or he’s an even better actor than I give him credit for.
For the adults in the room there is just as much here to keep you entertained, as well. Chan doesn’t quite push the limit of his stunts as you’ve come to expect in the more serious roles. Still, there are plenty of fight gags and plenty of wire work. Some of them even involve little Alina, who did some of her own wire stunts. I wanna be that kid. There’s also a pretty cool group of bad guys. Magnus Scheving is okay as the main guy Poldark. The real surprise is Katherine Boecher as Creel, his female accomplice. In truth, the character doesn’t look real, and you won’t be able to recognize the actress at all. She looks like an oversized Barbie doll, but she plays it off to perfection. It’s a great deadpan performance with an evil eye twitch right out of the cartoons. There are also enough spy gadgets to satisfy the most diehard of James Bond fans. The stunts and f/x are all top notch. No one took the comedy angle for granted. Everyone from cast to crew plays this out just as if it were a top action drama. This one is a keeper.
The Spy Next Door is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25 mbps. This is a very bright film, in keeping with its light tone. Everything looks pretty pristine here. Colors are great. Flesh ones look quite natural. The detail is so fine that I’m finally starting to see the beginning of age on Jackie Chan’s face. Black levels are a little disappointing, but they are infrequent enough that it doesn’t spoil the picture. It’s a sharp, crisp image presentation. More than enough to allow you to enjoy the antics on your screen.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio delivers everything you could expect and a little bit more. This may feel like a dialog driven film, and at times it is, but there’s a lot of action and motion in this film. The surround mix takes full advantage of the fact that Chan just never sits still. You get to experience the movement enough to immerse yourself in the action.
All of these features are in HD.
Jackie Chan – Stunt Master And Mentor: (10:14) The cast and crew all marvel about working with Jackie Chan. There’s a lot of focus on Chan working with the kids here, and they offer up their thoughts as well.
Adventures In Acting With The Kids Of The Spy Next Door: (11:09) Actress Katherine Boecher (Creel) sits down and interviews the three child actors. It’s pretty cool stuff.
Bloopers: (3:16) It’s the same stuff offered during the closing credits.
DVD and Digital Copy
I was looking forward to seeing this one even when it was in the theaters. Time doesn’t allow for me to see much of what I hope to see on first run. Fortunately, Lionsgate has my back, and I soon enough found Jackie and the kids sitting on my front door step. I know you could look at this film and fault the ridiculous elements in the plot, but why on earth would you want to do that? Jackie Chan knows how to have fun. We could all take a lesson there. And, here you get Chan in wonderful Blu-ray high definition, “I felt like I was there”.