(I'm going to save some time and post a seven-year-old review of Spy Kids from my defunct website: Optimus Prime Films - Mostly as a history lesson for myself, so I can see how my writing has changed over the years. I'll leave it intact. Don't laugh.)
Director Robert Rodriguez most well known for the over-the-top action flick Desperado and the gory horror flick From Dusk till Dawn, makes a kids movie? It's called Spy Kids? That title makes it sound like a straight-to-video flick starring the Olsen Twins. I was thinking he was crazy or a "sell-out" or both. Seeing the trailer didn't do much to quell those thoughts. It looked like a pretty standard kids movie, with the way to obvious jokes and the standard shots of kids beating up adults. Like the hundreds of Home Alone replicas that have come out since that seminal film.
I went into Spy Kids thinking, "Ok I'm going to watch this from a 10-year-olds point-of-view. That's probably about the only way I'm going to enjoy this." Boy was I pleasantly surprised when, only about 20 seconds into the film, I realized I wasn't going to have to do that. That this was a film that adults could have fun watching too.
The film opens simple enough with a mother telling her daughter a bed-time story about the two greatest secret agents to ever live. These two spies fall deeply in love and decide to get married. This is no ordinary wedding, towards the end about 20 heavily armed helicopters show up and shoot up the place, the wedding ends with the couple jumping off a cliff together. Soon they're having kids and retiring from the spy game. Of course this is the story about the parents in this film, played by Carla Gugino (Snake Eyes) and Rodriguez staple Antonio Banderas. (See the scene below.)
After a little introduction to the family's home life, the parents are kidnaped by the maniacal, evil genius Fegan Floop. You know the typical James Bond film, diabolical madman, except this time his genius is focused more on his children's TV show than taking over the world. The weird characters from Floop's show also work as his henchmen. (I especially liked the Thumb-Thumbs.) It is up to the kids to save their parents from this conflicted villain. Character actor Alan Cumming plays Floop with a flamboyant glee; it is the best performance of the film. That's not to say the rest are bad, they're just good enough, both of the kids are quite charismatic. After all this isn't a film about acting.
It is an entertainment piece, pure fluff, but thankfully it's one of the better ones to come out lately. This is a Rodriguez film, he knows how to make fast paced, fun films. And unlike his last film, The Faculty, all of his trademark stuff is here, the outlandish action scenes, the cool camera work, quick zooms, slow-motion, perfectly edited together by Rodriguez himself, all set to some funky guitar riffs. There are a few jokes that fall flat since they're aimed at the kiddies and a bad McDonald's product placement. But otherwise it's fun stuff, a perfect Saturday afternoon matinee film. - Grade: B
(I watched this with my son for the first time in a few years, he seemed to enjoy it, though hasn't asked to re-watch it, the true test. I still feel the same about the film as in this review. As for the writing, it hasn't changed much; same style, maybe a little more developed now, and definitely wordier. Though it's nearly impossible to critique yourself.)