I have seen hundreds of movies go bad. I’ve seen plenty try and cram a ham-fisted saccharine, entirely phony message about family values or whatever hackneyed lesson needs to be delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Rarely have I seen a movie that tries to cram in EVERY banal family message possible into one exasperated running time. There was one point where I counted three clichéd platitudes in a row. Rarely have I seen a movie fail at comedy so badly, even the generous definition of comedy in family films, a subgenre that haunts all those who crossover into it. Rarely have I seen one single family film try to do so much and succeed so breathtakingly little. The Spy Next Door is that movie. Jackie Chan stars as a retired Chinese super spy who the American government wants to keep contracting. He’s also dating his neighbor (Amber Valetta) who has three rambunctious kids that fall into easy slots (surly teenager smarting from parent’s divorce, dweeby tech kid trying to learn to stand up to bullies, precocious little tyke who makes a mess). Chan agrees to watch over them for a weekend to convince those kids they should give him a shot, or else it’s splitsville between he and the mom. It’s the Vin Diesel Pacifier movie but done with even less finesse, if possible. The comedy is nonexistent, which is saying something for being as broad as it is, the physical action shows how badly Chan is aging, and the plot is painfully predictable. This is just a sad, uncomfortable viewing experience; it reeks of desperation and despondency. No one looks to be enjoying themselves for a single second. That’s probably because The Spy Next Door is a vacuum of fun; it’s lazy, incompetent, but worst of all, devoid of any effort to be something other than a mind-numbing, head-scratching waste of 90 minutes.
Nate’s Grade: D-
Was this ever a refreshing revelation. This transplanted Karate Kid remake takes the basic elements of the seminal 1980s underdog sports film and makes a rousing, satisfying, and surprisingly emotional experience. It sounds like sacrilege to take on a classic and fill it with an aged Jackie Chan and Will Smith’s progeny, but by God it works. It all works. It’s clear that pint-sized Jaden Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness) is a chip off the old block; he’s got a natural charm and feels like he can turn it on at will. His acting doesn’t come across as forced, and the kid can even tackle the heavier dramatic stuff with shocking ease. The other benefit to Smith is that he LOOKS like a true 12-year-old kid, gangly and scrambling for protection and self-confidence. Ralph Machio was in his early 20s when he was waxing on, waxing off. Smith and Chan have a bristling chemistry, and I ended up eating my words when Chan channeled a succession of teary emotions. The teacher/student dynamic leads to enough satisfying moments to feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth. The same lessons of discipline get a fresh coat of paint. There’s no real reason that a Karate Kid remake needed to be made (it feels like China funded it as an unashamed tourist commercial) especially since there were three sequels of varying quality. While a little long with an overextended kung-fu tournament, Karate Kid is a family film that won’t melt your brain.
Nate’s Grade: B