Watching this film made me discover that the secret to making a great tough-guy-takes-care-of-children film is casting an actor that has trouble speaking English. And who better to cast than Jackie Chan, the new master of botching the English language? Watching Chan fumble over our language is one of the purest delights in modern cinema. Okay, maybe that's taking a little too far, but it's pretty fantastic, and I'm thoroughly convinced that the writers of this film were aware of that fact; why else would they burden Mr. Chan with the task of saying a word like "Frankenstein?" The film is worth watching for that one line.
You know the story: action star is entrusted with the care of children who don't like him. Hijinks ensue. While this is no Kindergarten Cop, The Spy Next Door actually does have a fair amount of charm. I went into this thing with a couple of derisory tweets already formulating in my head, but was surprised to find that Jackie Chan's tender side kind of makes this film work. As silly as it may sound, a scene in which Chan fights off a slew of bad guys while juggling a little girl's pet turtle is particularly entertaining. But silliness is what makes this film go: the villains are goofy, the plot is nonsensical, and it features a kid in third grade who accidentally downloads top-secret CIA documents onto his iPod, mistaking them for bootleg shows of an obscure German metal band. Yup, that really happened.
But don't get me wrong, this isn't a brilliant film. Even quite a bit of the aforementioned silliness doesn't exactly land, and there's plenty of awkwardness throughout, like when the kids' mother bakes them cookies, and then pretty much admonishes them for existing, because she can't pursue her own happiness with men that they don't like. And while one of the kids is kind of adorable, I sometimes felt like passing through the screen and rubbing Metal Kid's face in a pile of dirt. That said, I think that enough of this film works, and the stuff that doesn't is pretty harmless, and this film inspires more laughs than it ever should have, even if you're sometimes (a lot of the time) laughing at it. I wasn't always sure exactly why I was laughing, but the fact that I was laughing at all made this a pretty nice surprise.