The Spy Next Door

The Spy Next Door (PG Movie).  Directed by Brian Levant. Lionsgate, 2010. 94 minutes. $14.98

Plot: In this family comedy Jackie Chan plays Bob Ho, a Chinese spy helping the CIA with a case.  Ho is dating woman next door, a single mother of three, who doesn’t know that he is a spy.  To the kids, he seems like a boring guy, and they vow to keep him away from their mother.  But, Bob is determined for the kids to kids to like him, so he can marry their mother and the five of them can settle down as a family.  He takes on the role of babysitter to the three kids when their mother has to go tend to her injured father.  Bob is planning to retire from being a spy, but things take a turn when it seems there is a mole in the CIA, and Bob get called in, one day into his retirement, to help out.  He is in the position of managing the kids and his search for a Russian spy.  With some great fight scenes that feature Chan’s talent as a a highly skilled martial artist, this film combines elements of comedy with action and adventure to entertain the whole family.

Review: Sometimes silly, sometimes goofy, this action comedy is light on plot, but, contains enough silliness and great martial arts scenes to make it enjoyable.  Jackie Chan plays a seemingly stiff and awkward “normal” guy who is really a top-secret spy.  The fight scenes are almost comical, like a cartoon, no blood is spilled and with Chan jumping around demonstrating his agility and finesse, the bad guys don’t stand a chance.  The stereotypical Russian spies as bad guys are disappointing, but not surprising given that the plot of this movie is fairly basic and predictable.  Even with that, though, I enjoyed watching Chan as both potential step father being challenged by his girlfriend’s three kids on the one hand and being a highly competent and sought after spy on the other.

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Adventure, Family

Viewing/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Available in: DVD; Blu-ray

Subjects: spies, honesty, love, family


Wizards of Waverly Place: Alex Tells the World

Wizards of Waverly Place: Alex Tells the World (Season 4, Episode 1, November 12, 2010), TV Program. Producer: It’s a Laugh Productions.  Actors: Selena Gomez, David Henrie, Jake T. Austin, Jennifer Stone, Maria Canals Barrera, David DeLuise.  Series dates: 2007 – present.

Plot Summary: The Russo family lives on Waverly Place in New York City’s Greenwich Village.  With an Italian American father, a Mexican American mother, and three lovely children, the family seems to be living the American dream.  Only, there’s a twist.  The three children, Justin, Alex, and Max, are wizards.  The father, Jerry used to be a wizard, but by marrying a mortal, Theresa, he was relieved of his powers.  Now his children are training to become wizards and they will eventually compete to be the receiver of the family’s magic.  Only one of them can get the magic and stay a wizard forever, the other two will become mortals.  They must keep their powers a secret from the mortal world.  In this particular episode, viewers join the family after they have just escaped imprisonment by the government.  They return exhausted, but safe, to Waverly Place.  But, other wizards are still being jailed, and Alex, the middle child and only daughter, decides she must tell the mortal world about the wizarding world in order to save the other wizards.  This revelation is against all wizarding rules, but Alex feels she has no other choice.  Will Alex become a hero?  Will the wizards be saved?

Review: This program has an interesting premise.  With the popularity of Harry Potter books, a TV show about wizards is a great choice.  This show is less like Harry Potter, and more like many of the tween comedies out there.  There are silly antics, slapstick jokes, outsmarting the parents, and, hopefully, a positive message at the end, in this case, standing up for what is right, even if there are unpleasant consequences.  The characters can be compelling.  Viewers could get caught up in the successes or failures of the wizard training program and relate to the sibling rivalry and friendship issues.  The parents are present, but not too hovering.  The big star of the show, Selena Gomez, has a recording career and has starred in several movies, likely a big draw for this program.

Genre(s): Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Adventure

Viewing/Interest Level: 8 – 12 years

Available in: Cable TV Disney Channel, DVD, online at

Similar Programs: Good Luck Charlie, That’s So Raven, Hannah Montana

Subjects: justice, speaking out, secrets,

Selected Award: 2009 Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Program


iCarly: iSell Penny-Tees

iCarly, Episode # 74, iSell Penny-Tees (October 2, 2010), TV Program. Producer: Dan Schneider for the Nickelodeon.  Actors: Miranda Cosgrove, Jennette McCurdy, Nathan Kress, Jerry Trainor, Noah Munck.  Series dates: 2007 – present.

Plot Summary: The premise of iCarly is that the main character, Carly Shay has her own online video show that she creates with her two best friends, Sam and Freddie.  Sam is her co-host and Freddie produces, directs and does all the technical work for the show.  Gibby, another friend, is also featured in the program performing odd stunts.  Carly’s older brother, Spencer, cares for her while their dad is away on military duty.  Carly was a tween when the program started in 2007 and is now a young teen.  In the iSell Penny-Tees episode, Carly and Sam realize that they can make money by selling “penny-tees” to the iCarly show fans.  The tees are basic tee –shirts with quirky sayings on them.  The photo to the right has an example of a penny tee on the mannequin with Carly on the left and Sam on the right.  Carly and Sam had heretofore made the penny tees themselves, but when orders start rolling in, they realize they need help to fill them Sam creates a sweatshop-like factory in the basement, while Carly and Freddie create a fun and supportive work environment for a group of fourth graders from a neighborhood school.  Who can get the fourth grade workers to produce more shirts?  Will the workers protest their harsh conditions or will they do anything to make a buck?  Will the iCarly show be able to fulfill ALL of the penny tee orders?

Review: This program is cute.  The plot was simple, without much depth and fairly predictable, but it was presented without a heavy hand and was funny and entertaining.  Carly is goofy, but clearly confident, smart and kind, a strong female character of the ones available on tween TV, and not a bad role model.  Sam is also a strong female character, though her behavior on the show and references to her visits to juvenile hall suggest she is not necessarily a great role model, though she is talented on the iCarly show and seems dedicated to the show.  Freddie is nice, smart, technologically savvy, and a great team member.  Spencer is a shallow character, a young man in his 20’s, interested in the superficial qualities of women.  In this particular show he is shown kissing his latest love interest, a stereotypically beautiful blonde woman, with whom he is unable to communicate, as she only speaks Uzbek and he only English.  An interactive website for the program parallels the interaction that fictional fans of the fictional iCarly show engage with, so tweens have the ability to do more than simply watch the program.  This particular show presented brief lessons about labor conditions for workers, leadership, the power of numbers, and entrepreneurialism.

Genre(s): Comedy, Family

Viewing/Interest Level: 8 – 13 years

Available in: Cable TV Nickelodeon, DVD, online at

Similar Programs: That’s So Raven, The Wizards of Waverly Place, Good Luck Charlie, Hannah Montana

Subjects: Internet, online social networking, friendship, team work, labor rights, ethics, leadership, business skills, entrepreneurialism

Hannah Montana: Got to Get Her Out of My House

Hannah Montana, Episode # 83, Got to Get Her Out of my House (January 10, 2010), TV Program. Produced by: It’s a Laugh Productions, Michael Poryes Productions, and the Disney Channel for the Disney Channel.  Actors,Miley Cyrus, Emily Osment, Mitchel Musso, Jason Earles, Billy Ray Cyrus.  Series dates: 2006 – 2011.

Plot Summary: The premise of the Hannah Montana series is that main character, Miley Stewart, leads a double-life as a school girl by day and famous pop star, Hannah Montana, at night.  Miley’s hair is brown, and she wears a blonde wig when she is Hannah Montana.  This episode is about Miley’s best friend, Lilly, who is trying to work to earn money to buy a car with her boyfriend.  Lilly knows about Miley’s secret life.  Lilly’s perfectionism causes her to lose her job at a local sandwich shop, and she ends up becoming the housekeeper at Miley’s house.  Miley’s dad is thrilled with Lilly’s perfectionism with her housekeeping duties, but soon her rigid ways become more than Miley and her brother, Jackson, can bear.  How will they get Lilly out of their house without hurting her feelings?  Will Lilly earn enough money to buy the car she wants?

Review: OK, I have to admit that I could not stand this program.  Maybe I picked the wrong episode, but I found the plot irritatingly vacant of any substance.  The acting was way overdone.  This was the first episode of Hannah Montana that I had seen.  Before this, I had only seen a spoof of the fictional “Miley Cyrus Show” on Saturday Night Live.  When I saw the spoof I assumed (incorrectly) that the actress who was portraying Miley Cyrus was going over the top with exaggerated facial expressions and ridiculously over emphasized words in her speech.  But, it turns out that Miley Cyrus playing Miley Stewart is really that much of an over actor.  In fact I have a new appreciation for the SNL actress who portrays Miley Cyrus.  I am far from my tween years, and, maybe, I would very well have watched and liked this program if it been on when I was the target age, but I just can’t seem to find anything redeeming about this particular episode.  I know it’s supposed to be funny and over the top, but it just seemed cheesy.  I found it inane, predictable, totally unrealistic, simplistic, and parts of it, when Miley and Jackson pretend to be mobsters, were offensive and ill conceived.  I plan to watch another episode to see if I can “get it,” because right now, I just don’t.

Genre(s): Comedy

Viewing/Interest Level: 8 – 13 years

Available in: Cable TV Disney Channel, DVD, online at

Similar Programs: That’s So Raven, The Wizards of Waverly Place, iCarly

Subjects: friendship, perfectionism, jobs