The Spy Next Door

Starring Jackie Chan, Amber Valetta, Billy Ray Cyrus. Directed by Brian Levant.
Rated PG (mild violence). 94 mins.

“Knock, knock, who's there?
Irish stew.
Irish stew who?
Irish stew you in the name of the law.”

Actually, this knock, knock riddle is told twice during the film – and indicates some of the style of humour in this variation on Spy Kids in Jackie Chan land.

There is one thing about Jackie Chan. He is always cheerful. There are actually many things, of course, about Jackie Chan who has been featuring in action films since the 1970s. He is a most agile acrobat which serves him well in the ingeniously choreographed fight scenes and the stunts he does himself. Part martial arts, part balletic moves, part slapstick, his films have been popular and often endearing: the Rush Hour films, Shanghai Noon, Shanghai Knights...

Chan has said that he had to be far more careful than usual in this one because he was working with children and he had to be sure of their safety. He also wanted to have a PG film that would be acceptable to the widest audience. This means that a lot of the fights are in rooms in houses, in a warehouse and in a Chinese restaurant and a lot of furniture and kitchen implements find themselves enlisted to fight the villains (the Russians again!) who are more comic cyphers than international terrorists despite the virus threatening formula they are searching for. They all have those pseudo-Eastern European accents that they display with great gusto.

And the plot? Chinese agent, Bob Ho (Chan), seconded to the CIA and working in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which does not seem to be the most dangerous part of the US, lives a quiet suburban life, replete with wearing spectacles to make him seem very serious. He has fallen in love with the mother next door (Amber Valetta) who has three Hollywood-obnoxious and outspoken children. The oldest is beginning teenage moodiness. The boy is more than a touch arrogant. The littlest is, well, five and more cutesy than nasty. Of course, they are going to warm to Bob Ho though they despise him as a loser and try to humiliate him and drive him away from their mother.

When he is unmasked as a genial spy, it gives Jackie Chan to go full steam in action sequences – and, for the kids (on screen and in the audience), they get the opportunity to share many action credits with Jackie. Needless to stay, mother is shocked and wants to give Jackie his marching orders. But... George Lopez is the CIA boss and Billy Ray Cyrus, without Miley, is his assistant.

This is Saturday matinee material that most young kids will enjoy and is a basic entertainment for tolerant adults accompanying the kids.

Roadshow Open March 25

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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