The producers of The Spy Next Door apparently love to tease Jackie Chan fans. Over the opening credits, a highlight reel of Chan’s previous stunt work plays, supposedly the work of his character Bob Ho, CIA agent. Considering nothing in Spy Next Door even comes close to the level of expertise shown in those brief flashes of brilliance, it serves only as a reminder of how great Chan can be.
The minimalist stunt work done for Spy is completely lacking in originality or even Jackie Chan himself. A painfully obvious stunt double takes care of the majority of the heavy lifting. Most of the stunts should be familiar to fans, including a bicycle used during a fight, and a leap from a store decoration onto some escalators. Fights are sluggish, although admittedly amusing in spots. His argument with girlfriend Amber Valletta in a kitchen as Russian terrorists assault the home is a bit of goofy, breezy fun.
Oh, and Amber Valletta? 34. Jackie Chan? 56. Creepy.
Of course, Spy Next Door is not courting hardcore Jackie Chan fans, or apparently anyone who believe in age-appropriate dating. If it was… ouch. This is one for the family, dotting the movie with cute kids, awful Russian accents, atrocious dialogue, and shameful delivery.
Director Brian Levant has given us a number of children’s films over the years, helming both of the mid-90s Flintstones big screen adaptations, the first Problem Child sequel, and Schwarzenegger family vehicle Jingle All the Way. Spy Next Door carries a made-for-TV feel, pedestrian camera work, photography, and lighting all included.
This is a flat film, something that will likely cause the kids to wander off in search of something more colorful or energetic. Adults will be clamoring for any opportunity to turn it off. The sluggish action scenes are not at odds with the intended PG-rating, just Chan’s age and frantic editing. Nothing really lifts the film above the genre contrivances, and passing over the excusable plot, Spy Next Door never gains the energy it needs to keep today’s kids glued to the set.
Lionsgate delivers an adequate AVC encode for Spy Next Door. Some inconsistencies arise, notably sporadic bouts of noise and artifacting. Chan’s car at the six-minute mark is riddled with compression, and the ground outside the villain’s hideout at 15:40 loses a significant level of definition to chroma noise. An unbearably noisy shot occurs at 57:42 as young Alina Foley discusses her Halloween costume (an outtake from this scene over the credits carries the same issue).
A few random shots appear soft as well, lacking the generally firm definition of others. Close-ups of Katherine Boecher at 36:31 take a noticeable dip in sharpness, and as Chan reveals his secrets just past the hour mark (1:00:13), all detail is sapped from the frame, creating a flat, smooth image. A couple of shots also appear briefly digital, possibly stock footage. A brief glimpse of an ambulance at 14:46 looks worse than most cable broadcasts, and one of the final shots outside a church (1:25:52) is significantly processed, disappointing since most environmental views are excellent. Well, with the exception of an orange tree outside the kid’s school that first shows up at 29:06. The color bleed and artifacting sticks out compared to the clarity and detail included in the rest of the shot.
Thankfully, despite what it may look like, the encode generally appears pleasant. Colors are saturated within reason, keeping flesh tones natural. Primaries can appear bold, delivering excellent color depth to the frame. Black levels tend to cause some significant crush in spots, Jackie Chan’s head appearing like a black blob at night, especially as he exists Farren’s room via the window to chat with her. Facial detail can be superb in close-ups, although lost in mid-range shots. A hint of ringing can go unnoticed even at its worst (when the chemical first eats the oil during a demonstration), and is insignificant. A nice grain structure is left alone with few ill effects.
Much like the film, the audio design of Spy Next Door is lifeless. The minimal score behind the action never feels like it part of the action or even needed. During the brawl poolside, it seems lost or faded. It is musical accompaniment which can best be described as “being there,” and not much else. Some scene transitions utilize the low-end with a bit of force, and then the subwoofer returns to stand-by waiting for something to do.
Action scenes barely utilize the surround channels. The stereo speakers are prioritized, split as far as motion is concerned. Cars track to the sides of the frame as they pass by, and as Chan punches and kicks, the sound effects are placed in the proper speaker. Clarity is fine, although hardly remarkable. The pedestrian, likely stock sound effects are lackluster regardless of their uncompressed methods.
One standout moment (not for the better) occurs as the main villain fires his gun at 47:22. This sounds significantly distorted and muffled. Whether this is the result of the original audio mix or the DTS-HD track on the disc is unknown. On that same note, you can clearly hear the discharged clip hit the ground in the rear speaker immediately after, a nice touch and one of the few moments of distinct positional audio.
Extras are brief and typical. Stunt Master and Mentor lets cast and crew praise Jackie Chan for his work for 10-minutes. Adventures in Acting features the kids in a roundtable discussion chatting about their experiences, Alina Foley mentioning that her mother told her to be an actress somewhat disheartening. A blooper reel is included, but it is the same collection that plays over the end credits. Weird.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.