Of all the martial arts ass-whoopers, Jackie Chan has long been the one you’d feel OK showing your kids. Even at his very seldom R-rated, he’s closer to Looney Tunes violence. That’s not a knock—his manic set pieces are uniformly breathtaking in their creativity and speed. Chan just happens to be the nicest guy to ever make a career kicking the ever-living snot out of people, studding his tussles with goofy asides, frantic mugging and, in the downtime sections, jokes that could amuse only a toddler.
This established, the idea that Chan would make a ﬁlm made exclusively for children is downright horrifying. It’s not that it’s an artist losing his edge; Chan, by design, has little edge, making his latest American outing not so much a defanging as the removal of a baby fang.
Killing time before he passes the mantle to Will Smith’s son in the forth-coming Karate Kid reboot, Chan plays a trusty CIA agent who has decided to quit the biz to settle into what looks like a comically chaste relationship—consisting entirely of him smiling and struggling, still, with his English lines— with Amber Valetta’s single mom/ neighbor. Naturally, she thinks he’s a bespectacled pen saleman, as do her three kids, who are appalled that their hotcha mom has taken up with the dork next door. The only way to impress them, alas, is by revealing his inner badass, which he gets to do when his old life comes sneaking back via some Russian baddies.(As J.K. Simmons exclaimed in Burn After Reading, “Really? The Russians?”)
Ignore for a second that Chan’s partner is Billy Ray Cyrus. The Spy Next Door’s real problem is that it plays less like the egregious non-ﬁght sections of Chan movies than the even more egregious cinema of its director, Brian Levant, who has previously family-friendlied Arnold Schwarzennegger (Jingle All the Way) and the guy who rapped “If I Was Fucking You” (Are We There Yet?).
Finally, toward the end, the 55-year-old gets to whack people around with ladders and chairs and such. But the scenes are cut to shit and peppered with cloying reaction shots from not just its star but a trio of central casting twerps.
At the very least, you could argue, there’s ﬁnally a ﬁlm that makes The Medallion look watchable. D+