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January 31, 2010

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Stunts prevail in annoying family, spy caper

JACKIE Chan seems to be a boring pen salesman named Bob Ho. But really he's an ace CIA agent who's retiring from the spy game to marry the single mom next door. Only her kids can't stand him because they think he's a boring pen salesman named Bob Ho.

So she goes away and he volunteers to baby-sit to win over the little ones. Except these Russian spies come after him and the children ...

You buying any of this? Neither are we.

Like many action stars, Chan is looking for a piece of the lucrative family market with "The Spy Next Door" and his upcoming "The Karate Kid."

Maybe he'll have some luck with the latter, a remake with some built-in appeal, because "The Spy Next Door" is the sort of slop to make you long for a less-irritating neighbor, like Barney the dinosaur or some Teletubbies.

In fairness, Chan is no more tiresome than anyone else in "The Spy Next Door," from Billy Ray Cyrus as his good old boy spy ally to George Lopez as his grinning CIA boss to Madeline Carroll, Will Shadley and Alina Foley as the supremely annoying children.

It's not nice to make fun of kids, so let's blame the young ones' obnoxiousness on director Brian Levant, who specializes in bringing out the worst in performers for family fare ("Jingle All the Way," "Are We There Yet?").

The screenplay centers on some top-secret formula accidentally downloaded by one of the children Bob's minding for his girlfriend, Gillian (Amber Valletta). That sends the villains calling, putting Bob and his young charges on the run for their lives.

Chan's halting English made for an endearing chuckle or two in his "Rush Hour" movies, but here, it's just a chore to decipher what he's saying.

The language barrier is compounded by the sometimes incomprehensible mutterings from Magnus Scheving and Katherine Boecher, doing miserable Boris-and-Natasha imitations as the main Russian villains.

Odds are, given the dumb dialogue that you can actually understand, we're not missing anything when the accents obscure the lines.

This movie is built entirely to set up Chan's stunt sequences as he fights with pots, pans, ladders and other found objects or hurtles stairways to chase bad guys. The action stuff is more tolerable than the jokes, but barely.

Parents, there are so many better ways to entertain your kids for an afternoon than shelling out for this. Think sock puppets and go from there.

Farren sums things up nicely at the outset of "The Spy Next Door," shouting, "I hate this family!"

Yeah, know the feeling.


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