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Hey All, we are most fortunate to have as a new contributor, Patrick J. White, author of the brilliant book, THE COMPLETE MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE DOSSIER and martial arts aficionado on board to give us his thoughts on Jackie Chanís latest US offering. Enjoy!

 

  

   Love makes people do strange things. Take Jackie Chan; after two failed attempts to crack the American market, he succeeded in 1998 with the US release of his Hong Kong film RUMBLE IN THE BRONX, quickly followed by two of his finest, OPERATION CONDOR and SUPERCOP. The popularity of US vehicles RUSH HOUR and SHANGHAI NOON ultimately made Chan a household name in America. Unfortunately, three consecutive flops, THE TUXEDO, THE MEDALLION, and AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS not only shut down the possibility of further US releases of Chan's great Chinese films, but also stunted (no pun intended) his American career and oft-spoken dream to star in a blockbuster American film with a powerhouse director (one recalls Chan's talk of making THE TUXEDO "for Spielberg" -- a Dreamworks film, but hardly the same as working for Spielberg).  By the time of RUSH HOUR 3, the ever-diplomatic star was making no secret of his disappointment in the quality of his American work, and mentioned more than once that he would continue to focus on making films his way back in Hong Kong.

     Yet, like a spurned lover who just can't believe that the object of his affections doesn't return his great passion, Jackie shows up on our doorstep every now and then.  His latest American film, THE SPY NEXT DOOR, looks like a response to the success of the 2005 Vin Diesel vehicle, THE PACIFIER, a project which Chan rejected (most recently recycled by Disney as The Rock's THE GAME PLAN).  As a result, the film is not so much a Jackie Chan film as a film that happens to star Jackie Chan.  Lionsgate is selling the film, accurately, as a "family action comedy," and as such could have headlined anyone from Bruce Willis to Adam Sandler.  The attempts to exploit the unique talents of its star are mixed.

     The film begins with a montage of Chan action clips from OPERATION CONDOR, THE TUXEDO and the first two RUSH HOURs, loudly accompanied by the old Johnny Rivers hit "Secret Agent Man," an effective way of introducing our iconic hero.  The story concerns Bob Ho {Chan in Nutty Professor- like eyeglasses}, a pen importer whose romance with next-door ladyfriend Gillian {Amber Valletta} has stalled thanks to her three children, who simply can't stomach this non-entity, who, of course, is actually a Chinese Intelligence officer on loan to the CIA and in pursuit of a Russian terrorist and his gang.  When Gillian must suddenly leave town, Bob volunteers to babysit the kids while still trying to catch the Russians, who have developed an oil-destroying formula that would change the world's balance of power.  What unfolds are the usual formulaic comedic situations in which superspy Chan must deal with cooking breakfast for three antagonistic kids, mall shopping and school bullies.  There are some fun scenes where Bob uses his spy techware to monitor the kids, and a cute climax in which the kids, Mom and Bob use spy gadgets and kitchenware to stop the attacking Russians, but by and large there are few surprises.

     Director Brian Levant {SNOW DOGS, THE FLINTSTONES} has trouble maintaining a consistent tone, with an unconvincing romance, over-the-top Russians and predictable situation comedy.  He is more successful getting good performances out of the three children, whose conversion from Bob's enemies to allies works better than it might have.  As for Chan, he seems overly made up and self-conscious about his English (he has much more dialogue than usual).  One wonders if his frequent distressed looks stem from Bob's concern over his mission and the kids, or Chan's worries about his next line.  Typically, he fares better when in action, although the editing often sabotages him.  In one scene, he performs his trademark vaulting-over-an-obstacle-in three-leaps move, but the take is ruined by a cutaway reaction shot; and in a scene reminiscent of his smashing shopping center finale of POLICE STORY, he uses a banner to get from one escalator to another in search of an errant child, but again this is done in several shots rather than the astounding single takes Chan used in the earlier film.  The fights, less inventive than usual, are filmed too close, edited in too many takes and resolved too quickly to be appreciated:  In other words, they follow the pattern of every American Jackie Chan film with the exception of SHANGHAI KNIGHTS, in which director David Dobkin had the common sense to give Chan the all time, preparation, and single continuous shots necessary to come close to matching his legendary Hong Kong work.  Still, there are some fun moments where Chan must do battle while a scared little girl clings to his leg, or while literally saddled by a boy in a chair tied to Chan's back.

     THE SPY NEXT DOOR should please undemanding family audiences simply looking for a few easy laughs, and of course Jackie Chan fans will enjoy an increasingly rare opportunity to see him on the big screen in this country, even in this diminished capacity.  No one really expects the 55-year-old star to match his exploits of old, and the thought of this physical magician on wires (and there are plenty of examples here) is hard to swallow but inevitable.  In the end, that's the price to enjoy the company of an old friend who, given the proper material, can still be immensely charming.  Love, it seems, can be a two-way street.

 

~ Patrick J. White

January 14th, 2010

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Lionsgate Films)

 

 

 

 

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