Perhaps I am getting to that age when I am not understanding youth culture anymore. Recently, one of my adult friends asked me to review The Spy Next Door (2010). I always agree to these requests, and had every intention of doing so. But, life, etc., etc., etc. . . . Then I spent a week with my sister’s family awaiting Hurricane Ian’s landfall. During that time, one evening my nieces insisted that we watch the same movie. What luck, thought I, that fate would bring back that which circumstance faded from my short-term memory? Yet again, circumstance triumphed. Being tired from consecutive late nights, I fell asleep not long after it began. This is not something that usually happens, but such was my fatigue that I drifted off, opened my eyes in the middle for a little bit, and faded once more just as quickly. Then, while flipping through the current Netflix offerings, I spotted it. Bear in mind that I could talk about any movie I wish right now, but lately I have been trying to concentrate on ones that I have not seen. Since technically I had not seen this one, I felt it the honorable thing to do to watch it. Doing the right thing can sometimes lead you in some strange directions, and I feel that these are the moments when God laughs the most.
As the opening credits roll for The Spy Next Door, there is secret agent music playing. There are also clips of Jackie Chan, who plays Chinese spy on loan to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Bob Ho, in other movies. I think this is supposed to establish Bob as some kind of super-agent, but I was just confused. It then switches to a suburban neighborhood where, as the title suggests, Bob lives next door to his girlfriend Gillian (Amber Valletta) and her three children. While she is into him, the young ones remain unimpressed. And why would they be? His plaid sweater vests and sweet mannerisms suggest somebody completely harmless. This seems lame to the kids, but the exact kind of stability she has been craving. Again, as the title might suggest, Bob has a secret: that he is, in fact, a spy. He is about to reveal his real occupation to her over dinner, but is interrupted when said job calls him and he has to leave suddenly. This is because the agency has discovered the location of Russian terrorist Anton Poldark (Magnús Scheving). He possesses a substance that can dissolve oil, and plans to use it to destroy all the United States’ oil reserves and make his native land the richest country in petroleum. Bob, of course, stops Anton and is responsible for having the Russian arrested. Bob intends this to be his last mission, hoping to settle down with Gillian and figure out the last obstacle to them being together: the fact that the kids do not like him. The opportunity to win them over comes when Gillian unexpectedly has to leave town for a few days to look after her sick father. When she informs Bob of this development, he eagerly volunteers to watch her children while she is away. She is thrilled because she wants things to work out between them, but that means winning over the kids. Unsurprisingly, they are less thrilled. Regardless, Bob earnestly goes about the business of tending to their needs as would Gillian. While Bob tries to get domestic life sorted, Anton is broken out of prison by his main henchwoman, Tatiana Creel (Katherine Boecher). Once free, he continues to work on the substance he had previously been developing. Tests show some promise, but the file with the missing formula had been confiscated by the CIA. One of Bob’s former co-workers, Colton James (Billy Ray Cyrus), sends it to Bob asking for help with the decryption. Gillian’s son Ian (Will Shadley) finds it on his computer, mistakes it for a video of a rare concert, and downloads it. Eventually, Tatiana is able to track the source of this downloading to Bob’s house, and sends a bevy of goons to retrieve it. Bob fights them off, then realizes that he must do something to protect his charges. His answer is to take them out of school, but they are able to mysteriously keep tracking him. After being attacked at a hibachi restaurant, and having his old boss Glaze (George Lopez) reveal himself as being in Anton’s employ, he admits his identity to the kids. Later that evening, while hiding at a remote hotel, Gillian’s step-daughter Farren (Madeline Carroll) calls her step-mother to break this news to Gillian. Gillian’s disbelief is dispelled when Bob confirms the story. Understandably, she leaves right away to collect her children and end her relationship with Bob. So impressed is Ian by this turn of events that he decides that he, too, wants to be a spy, and somehow follows Bob to his planned rendezvous with Anton. Farren sees him leave and follows him. They catch up with Bob as he is attempting to set a trap for Anton and his goons. Tatiana is sent to go after Gillian and her youngest daughter Nora (Alina Foley). Bob manages to break free and get back to the house to thwart the rest of the plan. In short, all the bad guys are stopped and arrested. It is the three children that manage to convince Gillian that Bob did everything to protect them. The film ends with Bob and Gillian getting married.
I really do not know what my friend and nieces see in The Spy Next Door. Then again, I do not have to see it from their point of view. If they enjoy it, fine. What do I care? And truly, there is nothing objectionable about the film for most audiences. I am perfectly fine with my nieces watching this, even if it is over-the-top and Bob is a little “too perfect.” That might seem like a strange phrase to come from a practicing Catholic, emphasis on “practicing.” I also do not intend to sound demeaning in any way. Actually, I mean quite the opposite. There is a lovely moment when, after Gillian returns to collect her children from Bob, the kids are confused. Their loyalties had shifted while observing how great of a guy is Bob. Hence, they do not want to see him go. Instead of fighting with Gillian, Bob understands that he did technically lie to her, and that is not the right thing to do. He tells them that because he loves Gillian, he is willing to walk away. That is love. If it was not, he would have desperately tried to cling to her. There could have been begging, there could have been any number of histrionics to convince her to not do what she feels is right. And who can blame her after finding out that her children are caught up in international espionage? At any rate, it is a Christ-like love that allows a person to come to the realization of the truth, and divine patience that is able to allow these things to take their course. This is what happens with Gillian by the end, and you can credit his earnestness for winning her hand in the end.
Having said these positive things about The Spy Next Door, I will say I got a little concerned with Ian mentioning that he lied about visiting the Playboy Mansion. That is a momentarily blip in a film that is acceptable, but dumb. If you are a parent and forced to watch it, at least you can watch the fun Jackie Chan stunts?