Spy Kids
review by Elias Savada, 30 March 2001

Director-writer Robert Rodriguez has dropped his stylish macho action façade for a stylish action fantasy geared for the younger (and the younger at heart) set. Willy Wonkas of the twenty-first century rejoice! It's a daring departure for the man who killed off hundreds in El Mariachi, Desperado, From Dusk Til Dawn, and The Faculty. Sure there's violence in Spy Kids, but it's a comic book variation of True Lies, or what a sequel to that the-family-that-spies-together action comedy would have ended up. Rodriguez reigns over a world filled with cutting-edge, computer-generated nyuk-nyuk-nyuks and candy-coated, gizmo-laden, live-action cartoon characters. Harmless, innocuous, and definitely entertaining. Bumblegum Bond. Oy-Oy-Seven. Worthy of the franchise that awaits it.

It's the stuff that Technicolor dreams are made of. Or bedtime stories. And as the movie starts out that is exactly how well-to-do Ingrid and Gregorio Cortez present their secret adventures to their impressionable children. The kids quickly learn those night-time tall tales are the autobiographical escapades of two semi-retired professional agents. Super enemies once, then blissfully married (in an opening sequence comically modeled after those pre-credit exploits of 007), mom and pop have traded the battles of espionage for those of parenthood. Eight-year-old Juni (Daryl Sabara) and his four-year-older sister Carmen (Alexa Varga) are molded after the kids from Jurassic Park -- resourceful, innocence, and daring -- ready to follow a Mission-Impossible agenda that their parents have elaborately prepared for in the event of an "emergency." My only gripe is wondering how they could have pre-measured the kids' classy purple battle outfits in just the right size.

Those plans are quickly called into play when Ingrid and Gregorio are trapped by Fegan Floop, an oversized, overdrawn television celebrity with a children's show (think Pee Wee Herman on steroids), cereal empire, network marketing savvy, and enough sci-fi gadgetry to please a billion techno-geeks and Radio Shack franchisees. It's his transmogrification machines, though, that interest one Mr. Lisp (Terminator 2's Robert Patrick), a wealthy financier funding the eccentric Floop's inventions for megalomaniacal intentions involving an army of robotic children. It turns out Gregorio holds the key component to make the dastardly scheme work, a miniature brain to actually make the automatons speak. There are a ton of visual delights for all, including submersible, convertible cars (complete with microwave popcorn) the Ninja-wardrobed Thumb-Thumbs (no head, no arms, no legs, just -- you guessed it -- thumbs), a Virtual Reality Room that works like Star Trek's hologram programs, and the Fooglies, a group of secret agents turned into floppy-headed, pop-up creatures. The production designers, costumers, and makeup artists have a field day in this fruit-flavored, Gaudi-inspired world. Floop's castle is a fruit loopy maze of the weird and magnificent.

The cast embraces the whole film with a giggly over-the-top attitude. Rodriguez veteran Antonio Banderas has the dash of Zorro and the charm of a modernist action hero. His Gregorio is adequately Annie Oakleyed by the spunky supermom Ingrid (Spin City's Carla Gugino), a feminist-realist who wants her share of the anything-you-can-do-I-can-daring-do-better one-upwomanships. The dark side is fortified with Alan Cumming as Floop, Tony Shalhoub as his eyeglass-enshrouded and Nehru-suited sidekick Minion, Teri Hatcher as a double agent. The good guys get Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo as plucky, self-sacrificing family members.

There's an effervescent brightness, a stunning pace, and a sly, comic undercurrent to the proceedings. Dragged into the caper, the kids realize "we are definitely going to be late for school." Hey, write your kids a note and take the whole family to Spy Kids.

P.S.: Texas Instruments surprised me and several other critics at the press screening held at General Cinema's Mazza Gallerie malltiplex in Northwest Washington, D.C. They brought in a roving demonstration model of their DLP Cinema digital projection systems, with nearly thirty of these units showing major releases around the world. The film itself was contained in a small hard-drive encasement, filling up sixty-five gigabytes. The closest installation to this next of the universe is New York City, so getting a glimpse of the technology was a welcome surprise. The system is fairly compact and installs very quickly on the face of one of the theater's existing lamp units. The color and sharpness don't change and if this is the future of cinema, I'd say it's 98 percent here.

Written and
Directed by:

Robert Rodriguez

Antonio Banderas
Carla Gugino
Alan Cumming
Teri Hatcher
Cheech Marin
Danny Trjo
Robert Patrick
Tony Shalhoub
Alexa Vega
Darly Sabara

PG - Parental Guidance Suggested
Some material may not be suitable for children








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