Movies: The Spy Next Door

There aren’t many movie stars that are so good that I can be sure I will enjoy a movie just because of that actor, but Jackie Chan is one. I hadn’t even heard of The Spy Next Door until my husband suggested it recently, but as soon as I heard it was a Jackie Chan movie, I was eager to see it.

Chan plays Bob Ho, a Chinese spy on loan to the CIA. His cover is that he works for a company that imports and sells pens. He lives in an ordinary suburban neighborhood, and his next-door neighbor is a divorced woman with three children. She and Bob like each other very much, but her children hate him.

She likes Bob, and would like to marry him, because he is so ordinary (she thinks) and so dependable. The children hate him for the same reason – he’s so boringly ordinary. Bob would like to marry Gillian, and decides to retire from the spy business so that he can. But Gillian decides that the kids come first, and until they get to like Bob she can’t pursue the relationship further.

Then she has to leave town to take care of her injured father, and Bob offers to babysit, so he and the kids can get to know each other. As he tells he former colleagues, “I’ve brought down dictators. How bad can three kids be?”

Well, you can imagine how that goes. Lots of movies have explored the man-trying-to-be-babysitter and the kids-hate-babysitter scenarios, and both are fruitful sources of comedy – especially the physical comedy that Chan excels at. And in this case, he can’t leave his spy past behind him, as the Russian agent he captured in his last mission escapes and brings his henchmen looking for Bob.

There’s some talk about what it means to be family, and about fitting in – or not fitting in, as well as about pretending to be someone you’re not (besidesthe matter of Bob’s hidden background, the movie takes place the week of Halloween). But mostly it’s an entertaining movie Jackie Chan’s special brand of action and humor.

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