Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Alan Cumming, Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Teri Hatcher, Tony Shalhoub
MPAA Rating: (for action sequences)
Running Time: 1:30
Release Date: 3/30/01
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Review by Mark Dujsik
If thereís one thing Spy Kids doesnít lack, itís imagination. Itís the kind of movie that shows kids doing things most kids would love to do. Itís full of neat gadgets, strange characters, evil villains, world travel, and funny moments. You know, the kind of stuff you wanted to have and do as a kid. For example, who wouldnít want a jet-pack at a young age? Who wouldnít want to drive a sleek motor boat? Who wouldnít want to fly a tiny jet plane? Who wouldnít want to save the day?
Thatís exactly what two kids (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) need to do in order to save their parents from an apparently diabolical childrenís program host. His name is Floop (Alan Cumming), and the parents (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) are international spies who met and fell in love while on duty. The opening sequence shows their meeting and marriage in the form of a bedtime story, and itís absurdity is quite funny.
The story from this point on involves the kidsí hiding, learning, escaping, more learning, fighting, rescuing. Itís all pretty basic, but writer/director Robert Rodriguez has instantly turned the chases and fights into comedic set pieces by placing children in the lead positions. Take for example the boat chase. Itís a standard spy movie action sequence (pick a Bond movie, almost any Bond movie), but the kidsí attempt to learn the controls leads to a series of mishaps that actually raise the stakes. Itís funny, yes, but there is also a sense of danger. We know the kids wonít get hurt, but theyíre still pretty new at all this stuff.
In fact, my one complaint about the film is that most of it is fairly basic. Weíve seen all this before, but Rodriguez handles it with care, wit, and imagination. Rodriguez is an experienced action director. I thoroughly enjoyed his El Mariachi and From Dusk Till Dawn, but those were R-rated movies. He seems like an odd volunteer to enter into the forum of kiddy-flicks, but he succeeds with flair.
The pacing during the exposition is a little slow. Itís never dull, but it could have been tightened. There are great moments here too. The entire final act is a triumph of special effects, pacing, and art and set decoration. If the entire film had been taken to the level of these scenes, it may have been the single most entertaining family film in a long time. As I said, though, until this point, itís been done before.
The two main messages of the movie are also essentially retreads. Thereís the "be happy being yourself" message and also the "family first" message. I admire the film for actually making these points. It could have settled for simple entertainment alone, but at a time when good family films are rare, this one stands out among the crowd. It doesnít reach the level of profundity of The Iron Giant or the Toy Story films, but it never pretends to either. Thereís no false sentiment pushed upon the audience. Itís a movie that says, "Iím here to entertain you for an hour and a half," and it does.
While I would love not to analyze the film too much, I must go against that intention and comment on the violence the film presents. Itís not extreme, but it is as close to violence for violenceís sake as a kidís movie can get. Once again though, the movie has no pretenses that the violence is about something. I would suggest that a family with younger children sit down and watch The Iron Giant before venturing out to see Spy Kids. The anti-violence message in that film exceeds similar messages made in live-action films, and it is just a great film for anyone to enjoy.
Spy Kids almost reaches that level. If you are a parent whose children want to see it, you will probably be quite surprised by how much you enjoy it. If youíve arrived at the theater with no idea what to see, Spy Kids may be one to seriously consider. If you are sans children, you may feel a little awkward walking in, but once the movie starts, youíll feel right at home.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.