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IN SHORT: The first blockbuster of the year. As much fun for kids as for their parents. [Rated PG for action sequences. 95 minutes]
This going to be a very big movie. We can say that because we sat through the entire flick kidlet-less and were absolutely enthralled and spellbound.
Spy Kids is one of those remarkable movies that works for both kids and grownups. It is frenetic but not confusing. The fight scenes, such as they are, manage to keep any heavy duty physical contact off to the side. While the kidlets of the story occasionally find themselves "in danger," it's nothing that should have any grownup worrying about lasting psychological damage to their personal offspring.
Spy Kids has robots, planes, super spy cars and submarines, evil villains and evil-er henchmen, and more James Bond-type gadgets than you can shake a stick at. And, lest you say this sounds like James Bond without the sex, you haven't seen Carla Gugino in her spy garb. Yum. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
In the perfectly ordinary mom, dad and two kidlets Cortez household, the favorite bedtime story for twelve year old Carmen (Alexa Vega) and eight year old Juni (Daryl Sabara) is called "The Two Spies Who Fell In Love." In one fell swoop, writer/director Robert Rodriguez gives us all the back story we need to know and sets up the great love on once arch-enemy spies Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino). Only when the two-footers are fast asleep do we see that these ex-secret agents, now called "consultants," have kept their hi-tech and deep intrigue contacts up to date. When news comes that all of their former associates have mysteriously disappeared, mom and dad put a nine-years retirement on the shelf and go "back to work". A dumb idea as these out of practice agents are soon swallowed up by . . . nah, that would be telling.
Left in the care of their Uncle Felix (Cheech Marin) Carmen and Juni are content to snipe at each other, as brothers and sisters will do, and spend endless hours watching "Floop's Fooglie's" on teevee. Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming) is the host, a Willie Wonka meets Pee Wee Herman type who provides songs and dances with his cast. These "Fooglies" look like humans whose heads have been run through a plastics extruder, or actors in big plastic headdresses of the kind you'd see on cheap Saturday morning shows.
Well, they would be content to watch Floop, except for the gun toting commandos that have kicked in the front door and taken out Felix. Given backpacks and pushed through a secret door, the kidlets find themselves in a hi-tech submarine that takes them to the safe house where spymaster Ms. Gradenko (Teri Hatcher) catches up with them. There they discover that Floop is an Evil Villain whose army of superpowered robot children could take over the world if he could find the mechanical "third brain" that their father was working on. They (will) also discover that nothing is what it appears to be; that Good is Evil and vice versa and, by the way, there are jet packs, crayons, silly string and other spy gear in the closet. Seeking allies, they make their way to the shop of gear maker Machete (Danny Trejo) whose relationship with their father may make him a deadly enemy or a valued ally.
From there on out the movie shifts into "find and save the parents and then the world (not necessarily in that order)"mode. We'll meet Floop's subservient second in command Minion (Tony Shalhoub, as usual his appearance is a fine reason to buy the ticket) and Mr. Lisp (Robert Patrick), the head of an Evil Corporation financing the robot army and Floop's Number Two rated teevee show. All along the path, Rodriguez' imagination doesn't let up for a second. The kidlets are totally grounded in reality -- one reads the instruction manuals, the other prefers to push every button in sight -- and despite all the flash, there's one of those great lessons to be learned at the end of the movie. Nothing preachy that would turn an adult's stomach but something all little ones should know.
Most of the time when looking at movies aimed at the kidlets, we do two things: 1) we lug our niece and nephew to the preview and 2) we don't put the regular "dollar rating" on the review. Most of these movies are strictly kidlet and destined for eternal reruns on the VCR, so there's no point. ONLY when there's material of interest to the adult audience -- that is most of our work -- do we put the number down. We weren't able to get the kids for this one and frankly there's no reason why you couldn't buy a night time ticket and have a blast of your own when the kidlets are in the sack. Which means we break Rule Number Two as well. In the case of Spy Kids, it's a very big number.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Spy Kids, he would have paid...
From time to time the kidlet characters know things that they shouldn't or couldn't. That is the only thing that made us sit up and take notice.
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