Jackie of All Trades

Chan tones down martial-arts antics in The Spy Next Door

Opens Friday area wide **1/2

If you're a longtime Jackie Chan fan hoping for another Police Story or even a Rush Hour, you can probably skip The Spy Next Door. The plot is standard-issue, the performances are flat and Brian Levant's direction can best be described as competent. The movie basically skates by on Chan's likeability, martial-arts skill and knack for comedy.

Chan plays Bob Ho, a Chinese secret agent on loan to the CIA to help apprehend Russian criminal Poldark (Magnus Scheving). Having completed his mission, Bob wants to retire from the spy game and settle down with his neighbor, hot single mom Gillian (Amber Valletta). Unfortunately, Bob's cover as a boring pen salesman has worked a little too well, and Gillian's three kids think he's a loser. Until her children warm up to Bob, Gillian doesn't feel their relationship can progress to the next level. Further complicating matters, Poldark escapes from captivity and sends his goons after Bob to retrieve a computer file containing information vital to his nefarious plans. Of course, the kids wind up getting entangled in this mess, and the expected fight scenes and stunts ensue, albeit in slightly more conventional fashion than Chan's usual chop-socky fests.

Still, there are a few laughs, and even tame Chan fight scenes are reasonably entertaining. The film isn't great, but it is good, clean, harmless fun for families. From a purely practical standpoint for action-movie-loving parents, watching Chan do his thing beats sitting though another animated kid-vid about the importance of being yourself. This film's message about how family is more about the people who love you than blood relations (the oldest of the three kids is adopted) isn't much deeper, but it at least feels sincere, especially when you consider that Chan spent much of his childhood away from his parents at the Peking Opera School.

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