Jackie Chan, How Could You?

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I'm not saying you should injure yourself to avoid taking your children to see Jackie Chan's latest film, The Spy Next Door. I'm just pointing out that five hours in the emergency room would be considerably more pleasant. Spoilers ahead.

I went to see an early screening of Chan's new movie for two reasons:

1) I've been a huge fan of Jackie Chan's work since I lived in Asia for a few years, and my lingering adoration for his work in such classics as Police Story, Armor Of God 2: Operation Condor and Drunken Master 2 has already led me to sit through some other terrible films in the past decade or two. For goodness knows what reason, I cherished a hope that this film might not be completely unwatchable.


2) The movie has a vaguely science-fictional storyline, involving a villain who has developed a formula that turns all petroleum (and petroleum products, like vinyl) into sludge, which then evaporates. The supervillain who has this formula could hold the world's oil supplies to ransom, or just ensure that only Russia has any oil reserves left. Or something. It's pretty much just a McGuffin, but there is a scene where the secret formula disintegrates some oil as well as the female villain's PVC boots.

You pretty much only have to watch the movie's trailer to get a hint of the hideousness that awaits:

But I still feel like a warning is in order — you might think, after watching that trailer, that this is just a Kindergarten Cop type movie. Or something along the same lines as that movie where Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson plays a football star who has to get a tiny ballerina hooked on horse steroids.

But The Spy Next Door is actually much worse than you're expecting - it's even worse than the last decade of Jackie Chan's career would lead you to expect. I was left wondering if this was a script that had been written for Adam Sandler, which Sandler turned down, and then Rob Schneider, David Spade and several other third-tier ex-SNL stars also had a crack at it before bowing out - and then Chan got suckered into it.


Okay. So Chan is a Chinese superspy, on loan to the CIA, who decides to retire from spying. But he doesn't go back to China, as you'd expect. Instead, he decides to stay in the United States indefinitely, under his cover identity as the schlubby employee of a pen company. In his cover identity, Chan is doing a sort of sub-Jerry Lewis dweeb impression in a sweater and thick glasses, which is meant to contrast with his "suave" spy persona. Anyway, Chan is in love with his next-door neighbor (Amber Valletta) but her kids can't accept him because he's too much of a dweeb — if only they knew the truth! Ha ha ha yeah... Uh.


Anyway, so even though Chan is retired, he's asked to help out with One Last Case — a Russian supercriminal that Chan put away has busted out, and he's got that aforementioned secret formula. And the secret of the formula is contained on a website called Stockholm.GBH, and the CIA asks Chan to help decrypt the website. Or something.

But then the neighbor's nosy kids sneak into Chan's house. And one of the kids sees the Stockholm.GBH thing on Chan's computer - and somehow the kid thinks it's a Stockholm concert by the band GBH, and it's just the thing to make him popular at school at last. So the kid "downloads" the encrypted Russian website onto his iPod, and the bad guys detect this and decide to chase after him to get their website back. (It's explained at one point that by "downloading their website," the kid may have gotten enough info to allow someone to concoct an antidote to the Secret Formula, but the baddies also run around saying thigns like "He downloaded our website! We have got to get it back!!"


So then Chan agrees to babysit Valletta's thoroughly annoying children while she's out of town, so the kids will start liking him — and meanwhile the Russians are slowly, painstakingly tracking down the person who downloaded their website.


The bulk of the movie is Chan Mr. Mom-ing it up, in a frilly apron over his dorky sweater and glasses. He tries to make oatmeal - with hilarious results! He can't get the kids to go to sleep! The tween daughter insists on dressing like a slut!

It's almost a relief when the evil Russians show up and attack, and Chan has to fight them off with the littlest kid clinging to his leg:


There is one decent bit in the entire movie - the littlest daughter, the one who's clinging to Chan's leg in that big fight scene, wants to be a princess, hence all the pink outfits. And the other kids think Chan is a cyborg at one point, because of the amazing things he does. So after Chan saves her, the littlest daughter decides she no longer wants to be a princess - she wants to be a cyborg. And for Halloween, she dresses in a super-cute Borg costume, as you can glimpse in the trailer.

I don't mean to be grouchy and misanthropic here - I know that kids' movies aren't supposed to be The Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. But this movie planted a large bruise on the surface of my brain, which took days to clear up and still hasn't vanished entirely. It was as if Jackie Chan, frustrated by his inability to do even the simplest stunts himself any more, instructed his painfully obvious stunt double to bludgeon my medulla oblongata with a lead brickbat.


The sad thing is, Jackie Chan used to be a comic genius — not just at physical comedy, but at general silliness, as any one of his collaborations with Sammo Hung will prove. You only have to watch his silly antics as the unlikely mob boss in QiJi (saddled in English with the godawful title of Mr. Canton And Lady Rose) to appreciate how funny he really was back in the day. To watch him simpering in an apron in one of Adam Sandler's cast-offs is just grievous.

In any case - avoid The Spy Next Door at all costs. Jackie Chan has made dozens of better movies in his career, including many that your kids will appreciate way better.