"Every day you get older," Butch Cassidy once griped to the Sundance Kid. "It's the law." Even, it would appear, for Jackie Chan.
The martial arts comic and greatest physical funnyman since Buster Keaton used to dazzle us with his athletic high jinks to chase down or beat down bad guys. The stunts were spectacular, and he did his own. He proved that with the always-hilarious outtakes reel at the end of each film — evidence of the broken bones and twisted ankles Chan suffered for his art.
The Spy Next Door should have been a sure thing, Chan's version of Kindergarten Cop or The Pacifier, the "man of action overwhelmed by child-rearing" formula. But the stunts were plainly done by others, and outtakes show Chan, 55, fumbling even the simple flip-the-chair-with-your-foot tricks. No sense blaming director Brian Levant (Jingle All the Way) for not knowing enough to show our favorite human special effect in one clean take — scrambling up a wall or sliding down an escalator with a Fred Astaire grace. Levant's a hack, but he was covering for a star who has lost a step.
Chan plays Bob Ho, a Chinese agent on loan to the CIA (mop-topped Billy Ray Cyrus is his sidekick, George Lopez is the boss) who retires to marry his neighbor (Amber Valletta). Her kids — a rebellious teen (Madeline Carroll), a lying tween (Will Shadley) and a gullible moppet (Alina Foley) — hate him. So he baby-sits them.
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But Bob's old Russian nemesis (Magnus Scheving, with the worst Russian accent ever) puts the entire oil- consuming world — and Bob and the kids — in jeopardy.
A couple of fights are almost cute. But the editing neuters Chan's charm, giving him too much to carry with mangled-English one-liners.
Limp and lifeless, this Next Door neighbor should be evicted to DVD.