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Spy Kids

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Spy Kids

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Rated: PG
RunTime: 93 Minutes
Release Date: March 2001
Genres: Action, Kids

*Also starring: Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Alan Cumming, Teri Hatcher, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Tony Shalhoub, Robert Patrick, Mike Judge

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

One of the best things about my job is that, every so often, a film still catches me by surprise. "Spy Kids" certainly did. An adventure story aimed primarily at children, the movie is smart, zippy fun. The production neither panders nor talks down to its audience. The brother and sister at the center of the tale are believable, likable kids and their parents are - get ready for this - intelligent, capable and loving. Bathroom humor is kept to a minimum and the numerous well-staged action scenes avoid excessive violence. What a relief it is to be able to review an all-ages film on its artistic merits and not its ethics.

Consider the other PG rated "family friendly" movie in theaters now. "See Spot Run" has a mother going out of town, leaving her son with an idiot neighbor. Body function humor abounds, including a slapstick bit that has the adult male lead repeatedly falling in dog poop. What really disturbs me are the jokes that bookend the film. The story begins with a police dog capturing a mobster and biting off one of his testicles in the process. At the hospital, the doctors explain that they replaced the testicle with a metal ball and joke that the victim is lucky the dog didn't bit off the other one, because two metal replacement balls would clack together. Of course, the movie ends with the dog biting off the remaining testicle and shows prisoners laughing at the criminal as he clacks past their cells. Somebody clue me in - when did genital mutilation become funny?

"Spy Kids" is a welcome antidote to the repellent "See Spot Run," using imagination instead of cruelty and crudeness. Carmen (Alexa Vega) and her younger brother Juni (Daryl Sabara) live in a beautiful seaside home with their parents, Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid Cortez (Carla Gugino). Mom and Dad are a sultry couple devoted to their children. What the kids don't know is that they are also former spies. Once agents from different countries assigned to "erase" each other, they instead fell in love, married and retired to raise a family.

Needless to say, they get drawn back to the business. Shortly into their first joint mission, they are captured and end up in the headquarters of Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming), a foppish hybrid of Willy Wonka and Pee Wee Herman who hosts Juni's favorite TV show. But there is evil behind the scenes, as inventors prepare an army of robots disguised as children. Papa Gregorio has the device necessary to radically increase the efficiency of the creatures and the bad guys will stop at nothing to get it from him.

Back at home, "Uncle" Felix (Cheech Marin) shows up to reveal Mom and Dad's secret to the kids. After a brief respite at a safe house filled with enough cool gadgets for a dozen Sharper Image stores, Carmen and Juni set off to find their parents and save the world, zooming through the sea in a submarine pod that looks like a goldfish, while a slew of wicked people (including Teri Hatcher) chase them.

During the course of their adventures, they get to use jet packs, electroshock bubblegum and super-computer sunglasses. They watch as secret agents are transformed into bizarre creatures with Silly Putty faces and used as background characters on Floop's TV show. They deal with guards that have huge thumbs where their arms, legs and heads would normally be (Why are the guards so ineffective? Because they're all thumbs!) They move from one colorful locale to another, including a nifty virtual reality room reminiscent of the holodeck from "Star Trek." The storyline is silly and convoluted, but even at its most dense, it is easier to follow than either "Mission: Impossible" movie.

Director Robert Rodriguez ("From Dusk to Dawn") maintains a frenetic pace, with the whole film clocking in at a mere 86 minutes. A bit less action and a little more character development would have been nice, but he does provide enough quiet moments for viewers to become fully invested in the family. Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara make an agreeable brother and sister team, squabbling the way kids do, but coming together when it counts. Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino are even better as the parents; they quickly establish and maintain a great lusty chemistry while keeping their tongues properly in cheek during the action scenes. Even the usually irritating Alan Cumming has some nice moments - a virtual cloud-backed chat between his character and Juni is one of the best segments in the film.

Had Rodriguez added a few more scenes like that, I would have enjoyed the film more (and I definitely could have lived without the glaring product placement for a certain Mc-ubiquitous company). Regardless, "Spy Kids" is a hoot, offering fun for adults and children alike. And just think, they managed to do it without sacrificing a single testicle.

Copyright 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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