Jackie Chan on set for 'The Spy Next Door'

Parents and purists may grumble, but kids will love it. The Spy Next Door features Jackie Chan as a bespectacled nerd / secret agent who's in love with a divorced mother of three (Amber Valetta). Her kids, of course, hate him. Aimed squarely at the sub-teen demographic, represented in the picture above, Brian Levant's film makes surprisingly good use of Chan's talents. (Mine is admittedly a minority view; see the Cinematical review by John Gholson.)

For the first time in an American film, Chan is not sharing the spotlight with a male * sparring partner: no Chris Tucker (Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2, Rush Hour 3), no Owen Wilson (Shanghai Noon, Shanghai Knights), and no Jet Li (The Forbidden Kingdom) in sight. Instead, Chan need only share screen time with three spoiled youngsters who have a severe case of the cutes and an anemic pair of "Russian" villains. Oh, and occasionally kiss and discuss relationship issues with a former supermodel turned Supermom. Oh, and pretend that George Lopez and Billy Ray Cyrus are convincing CIA agents. Chan ends up inhabiting a storyline that sounds very familiar: he's Uncle Buck with a job.

Even with those caveats in mind, here's the amazing thought for longtime Chan fans: he won international fame more than 20 years ago, he broke through (again) to the U.S. market a dozen years ago with Rush Hour, yet it's only now, nearing the age of 56, that he gets a star vehicle that he can drive all the way to the bank by himself. Thank goodness for little kids. p>

* ADDENDUM (1/17/10): Commenter Mark H. Wilkinson points to The Tuxedo, in which Chan starred with Jennifer Love Hewitt. It's a movie I've done my best to forget, though one or two scenes appear in the opening montage of Spy. Thanks, Mark.

And it's worth adding that Chan favored starring vehicles in Hong Kong in which he was notably the center of attention, an individual fighting against the forces of corruption and/or outright evil. His early 90s films cemented this idea, though he was unexpectedly generous in allowing Michelle Yeoh to shine in Police Story III: Supercop. So the requirement for him to share so much screen time with Chris Tucker and Owen Wilson indicates his willingness to do whatever it took to gain access to Hollywood stardom.