On the ground or twirling in a stunt harness above it, Jackie Chan brings an air of determined good cheer to even the most metallic of clunkers. "The Spy Next Door" proves this. Chan's new all-ages vehicle is smooth like oatmeal. It's hard to imagine anyone being offended, except fans of good comedy.
This is "True Lies" without the striptease or the Arab-maiming. On loan to the Central Intelligence Agency from the Chinese government, Bob Ho (Chan) is a superspy who, by day, masquerades as a mild-mannered pen importer. He is courting Gillian (Amber Valletta), a divorced mother of three whose serene under-reaction to her brats' bratty brattiness is the plot's biggest mystery.
Sullen older daughter (Madeline Carroll) and aggravating, "Octopussy"-referencing son (Will Shadley) vow to get rid of the opposition, even though the younger daughter (Alina Foley) knows mom's boyfriend is a fine fellow. Why are they so hard on Bob? Because he isn't cool. Because there's no story if they don't.
"The Spy Next Door" operates on familial bonding by way of humiliating pranks, which in better circumstances might go by the name of slapstick. Baby-sitting the kids while his sweetie's away, Bob ends up getting roped into the pursuit of Russian badskis trying to control the world's oil supply.