In The Spy Next Door, a genial family comedy starring Jackie Chan as a Chinese spook on loan to the CIA, being a double agent is easy. What's hard is taking care of three school-age kids. Harder still is sitting for ones who are resentful that you're dating Mom.
Sound like the 2005 comedy The Pacifier with Vin Diesel as the Navy SEAL-turned-babysitter? Yes, but the rubber-jointed Chan is nimbler and his physical comedy droller. He may be 55, but the martial-arts star still has bounce.
So does Brian Levant's formula comedy about a stolen Russian formula. Chan plays "pen salesman" Bob Ho (he was Chon Wang - pronounced John Wayne - in Shanghai Noon), the bespectacled and sweater-vested neighbor of single mom Gillian (Amber Valletta). They adore each other.
But her kids, 13, 11, and 4, all high-maintenance, think Bob's a supergeek. They'll do anything to keep Mom single. Then Gillian's father has an accident and Bob - who's retiring from the spy biz - volunteers to take care of her brood in order to win their hearts.
Initially, the logistics of getting them fed, to bed, breakfasted and to school defy Bob's formidable skills. Their needs are so different! Sulky Farren (Madeline Carroll), 13, needs an authority to be anti-. Brainiac Ian (Will Shadley), 11, needs a male role model. Hyper Nora (Alina Foley), 4, needs limits.
But Bob, who can leap small buildings in a single bound, is a quick study. Within 24 hours, he's rigged monitoring devices to enforce bedtimes and wake-up calls. And perfected the slingshot technique to get Nora out of day clothes and into her nightgown. With some industrial-grade uranium, Bob can simultaneously make three breakfasts and bag lunches.
But just when Bob thinks he's out of the CIA, they pull him back in. They need him to stop a pair of Russian spies who make Boris and Natasha look like James Bond and Pussy Galore.
Said agents have the formula for a product that evaporates petroleum so that everyone will have to buy oil from Russia. When Bob's CIA colleagues (George Lopez and Billy Ray Cyrus) intercept the formula and e-mail it to him, Ian hacks into Bob's computer and downloads the file and the cartoony Russians go after Bob and the kids.
The plot may be forgettable, but the execution is frantic and funny. The Spy Next Door is a movie that will bring smiles to kids - and their grandparents.