Wasting no time setting a precedent for 2010 ineptness, The Spy Next Door opens with a montage of memorable archival Jackie Chan clips as an apparent taunt to audiences destined to endure his latest subpar stateside effort. Following in Mr. Nanny and The Pacifier’s turgid footsteps, Brian Levant’s film mushifies Chan into a comedic parody of his rock-’em-sock-’em big-screen persona, casting him as a Chinese super spy on loan to the C.I.A. who, during his off-hours, lives undercover as a suburban pen salesman and boyfriend to neighbor Gillian (Amber Valletta). It’s hard to discern what’s more implausible about the initial setup, an amorous relationship between mismatched Chan and Valletta or the notion that the C.I.A. hired George Lopez and Billy Ray Cyrus as top agents, but away the story goes nonetheless, saddling Chan with sloppy combat sequences and domestic pratfall hijinks that boast all the spark of a black hole.
Chan’s Bob Ho is forced out of retirement to deal with a Russian villain played by Magnús Scheving, the same hambone actor who terrorizes young children in TV’s nightmare-inducing Lazytown, all while taking care of Gillian’s three kids, who resent his relationship with Mom and whom he is thus tasked with winning over. Bob makes breakfast with a flamethrower gadget and teaches the nerdy kid how to woo girls (the trick: upturned collars?), as well as engages in other wannabe-funny business with spazzy child costars that’s so G-rated toothless and dim that it comes off as even beneath Chan, an actor who’s never shied away from a broad googly-eyed reaction shot.
Meanwhile, Levant’s direction proves slipshod by kid-action genre standards, which is to say that the film exhibits all the momentum of a Disney Channel original movie and roughly the same degree of ingenuity and wit. By the time Spy Next Door meanders its way to a finale in which kids magically turn into espionage experts and Chan partakes in his umpteenth awkward romantic smooch with Valletta, the proceedings have turned downright intolerable, with only the welcome sight of Lopez suffering another knockout blow to the face alleviating one’s misery.