Dir: Robert Rodriguez. US. 2001. 90 mins.
Best known for indie action flicks like El Mariachi and From Dusk Til Dawn, Robert Rodriguez turns his hand to family adventure with Spy Kids, aiming to mix the effects and thrills of James Bond with the warmth and colour of more traditional children's fare. While the film isn't as entertaining on screen as it sounds on paper, the concept alone is likely to be welcomed by parents. And with the Miramax marketing machine behind it, Spy Kids (released under the Disney-owned company's Dimension label) could make a decent showing at the box office before moving on to profitable video and TV runs. And if Rodriguez's vision of a new breed of family film clicks with audiences, Spy Kids could turn into a franchise for Miramax: the company is already preparing a sequel, with Rodriguez once again set to write and direct.
Banderas and Gugino lead a fairly strong adult cast, playing semi-retired super-spies Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez. When the Cortezes are captured and held prisoner by Fegan Floop (Cumming), a zany inventor whose kids' TV show is a cover for evil machinations, it falls to their pre-teen children, Carmen (Vega) and Juni (Sabara), to attempt a rescue. Making use of mum and dad's secret arsenal of cool gadgets, the kids prove themselves to be chips off the old spying block, in the process learning to value more themselves, each other and their relationship with their parents.
Pleasing adults and kids at the same time is always a tricky task, and the twists and turns of Spy Kids' plot may test the attention spans of younger viewers. But kids should enjoy the film's cartoonish tone and colourful design work. Much of that work goes into the creation of Floop's castle lair and his legion of helpers, including the clownish Fooglies and the computer-generated - and slightly scary - Thumb-Thumbs. The stunt sequences mimicking the feats of 007 and his ilk are fun too, although parents will be able to tell that the effects budget was paltry by Bond movie standards.
The hectic action doesn't leave too much room for dramatic content, but there is some development of the relationship between the self-assured Carmen and her initially less self-confident younger brother Juni. Occasional - and slightly awkward - reminders of the importance of family unity are delivered by characters like the kids' estranged uncle Machete (Trejo). The comic element is amusing enough, although a few more well thought-out gags certainly wouldn't have gone amiss.
Prod co Dimension Films. Dist (US) Dimension. Int'l Sales: Miramax International. Prod: Elizabeth Avellan. Exec prods: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Cary Granat. Scr: Robert Rodriguez. DoP: Guillermo Navarro. Prod des: Cary White. Ed: Robert Rodriguez. Music: Danny Elfman, Gavin Greenaway, Heitor Pereira,John Debney, Robert Rodriguez, Los Lobos. Main cast: Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara,Alan Cumming, Tony Shalhoub, Teri Hatcher, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo.