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Movie Review

No one expects much from buttoned-up, bespectacled, sweater-wearing pen importer Bob Ho. Especially not his neighbor's kids. And especially not when he dates their mother, Gillian. If most children were given a choice of whom Mom should go out with, they'd choose a fireman or a fighter pilot. Not a geeky pen importer. But Gillian gets to make her own decisions—and her choice is Mr. Ho. Where her kids see a nerdy loser, she sees dependability and a good heart, qualities her cheating ex-husband doesn't have.

Still, Gillian's 13-year-old stepdaughter, Farren, and younger children Ian and Nora have no problem letting her know how they feel about Bob. In fact, when Gillian asks him to baby-sit while she's out of town, Ian says they'd rather go into foster care or juvenile hall.

But Bob gladly takes charge regardless. The pen gig is just a ruse, after all. He's really an international spy on loan to the CIA. (Take that, fighter jocks!) If he can dupe dictators, how hard can playing house be?

He soon finds out.

After Ian wreaks havoc by mistakenly downloading a lucrative, top secret file, Bob's archenemy, a Russian terrorist, is now trying to kill him and the kids.

So while making breakfast, carpooling and enforcing bedtimes—not to mention dodging bullets and knives—Bob gradually wins the kids' respect. And when Farren, Ian and Nora learn that he's actually a spy, their admiration level soars. Gillian's, however, dips when she learns he's The Spy Next Door.

Positive Elements

Gillian tells Bob that her kids are her priority, and if he marries her, they all come as a package deal. That's no problem for him. He loves her and the kids and says he wants to marry all of them.

Bob risks his life to protect the United States, colleagues, Gillian and the kids. Family is greatly valued, and Bob serves the children willingly—even when they're mean to him—gradually learning how to interact with them effectively, love them and gain their respect.

Spiritual Content

A wedding ceremony in a church is shown. Fate is mentioned.

Sexual Content

Couples kiss. Ian, who's 10 years old, brags at school about how he watched pay-per-view porn in high definition and felt like he was actually at the Playboy mansion's New Year's Eve party. He suggestively hits on a teenage girl. (Bob scolds him for it.)

A college student makes moves on Farren—who is fond of wearing very short skirts, shirts that show her midriff and tight jeans. (Her mother and Bob call her outfits inappropriate and ask her to change. She does.)

Violent Content

This being a Jackie Chan movie, The Spy Next Door is sated with stylish kung fu moves meant to impress, not necessarily maim or kill. Kicks, body slams and blows to the head are common. There's a fair amount of leaping from heights, gunfire, explosives, and highly choreographed knife and sword fights. Bob plays a rather rhythmic tune on a guy's head with skillets.

A bicycle hits a man's groin, temporarily incapacitating him. Bob hits baddies with chairs. A flame thrower (in the guise of a cigarette lighter) blasts away several times, once knocking a man out of a second-story window. And the children take bad guys down, too, using spy tools to protect themselves—which usually means a villain gets violently knocked down or out. Nora bites a man in self-defense. Farren drops a TV on a bad guy's head. A man falls off a roof. Gillian slaps Bob.

Crude or Profane Language

A use or two of "heck" and "freaking." One possible "h‑‑‑." (The baddie's Russian accent makes it very hard to tell.) Name-calling includes "psycho," "drone," "geek, "dork" and "nerd." Outtakes contain bleeped foul language.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Bob's colleague, Colton, says that a bad guy is "as gone as a rum cake at an AA meeting."

Other Negative Elements

Colton also advises Bob not to marry. Instead, he cynically says, "Just find a woman you're going to hate in five years and give her your house."

The kids—Farren in particular—are really disrespectful to Bob, mocking him, lying, locking him out of their house, violently tripping him and going through his things when they break into his home. Even though they grow to respect Bob and this behavior stops, they aren't disciplined for it.

Farren and Ian fight a lot, playing mean tricks on each other, yelling names and saying things such as, "I'm going to kill you."

Russians are called "Ruskies." A slur is also made against Chinese folks.

Bob lies about Halloween being his favorite holiday when he doesn't even know what it is. Ian is infamous for his lying at school—and he gets angry with Bob when the man won't lie to stick up for his tall tales.

Peeing into a bottle is joked about. We see Ian about to use the restroom. A filthy men's room takes center stage when Bob must accompany Nora inside.

The kids complain because Bob doesn't own any R-rated DVDs. Music piracy is joked about and minimized.

Bob throws Nora high into the air in order to dress her when she resists him. (She lands perfectly placed in her pajamas.)

Conclusion

Strip away the violence and other negatives in this flick and you can see that The Spy Next Door is attempting to safely secure the happiness of a developing stepfamily. That's no insignificant thing, actually, because this year stepfamilies are predicted to outnumber all other types of American families. More than 1,300 new stepfamilies are forming every day in the U.S. alone.

It's refreshing, then, to see a fictional clan in the making progress from cuffs to kisses. But real life is a lot more complicated than screen life—so let the audience beware. The average stepfamily of any age takes seven years to fully bond—a far cry from Hollywood's charming 90-minute shortcuts. And depending on the complexity of the stepfamily—Gillian's situation is very complex, for example—the remarriage divorce rate is high.

In Bob and Gillian's case, it helps a lot that the kids come around and eventually root for the nuptials. Ian says he'll personally write the wedding invitations, and Farren tells her mom that she'll never find another man as good as Bob. That helps in real life, too, but it's far from foolproof.

Not that I'm really looking for family-blending advice in a spy spoof that has far more in common with Vin Diesel's Pacifier flick than it does with, say, Ron Deal's book The Smart Stepfamily. Because, really, The Spy Next Door is little more than a silly slapstick caper that glibly dispenses comedic action, some sexual content and a whole lot of disrespect right alongside its lessons.

At least the good guys win, the world is safe, Bob and his new family learn about love, and Jackie Chan can still jump higher and do more midair twists than an Olympic gymnast.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

PG

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Jackie Chan as Bob Ho; Amber Valletta as Gillian; Billy Ray Cyrus as Colton James; George Lopez as Glaze; Magnus Scheving as Poldark; Lucas Till as Larry; Madeline Carroll as Farren; Will Shadley as Ian; Alina Foley as Nora; Katherine Boecher as Tatiana Creel

Distributor

Lionsgate

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

January 15, 2010

On Video

May 18, 2010

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Meredith Whitmore

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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