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'Spy Kids'

Pee wee power 'Spy Kids' turns feuding siblings into mini Bonds

Friday, March 30, 2001

By Scott Mervis, Weekend Editor, Post-Gazette

"Spy Kids," a visual knockout of an action-adventure film, offers a few innovations for the 21st-century movie family, among them electroshock bubble gum, amphibious submarines, smart-jetpacks and parents who aren't total dorks.

'Spy Kids'

RATING: PG for action sequences.

STARRING: Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Daryl Sabara, Alexa Vega.

DIRECTOR: Robert Rodriguez




Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino, a fine-looking pair, are way cooler than the typical parental units you find in these family films. When they put the kids to sleep, they retire to the bedroom, where the makeup mirrors turn into monitors for them to log into their latest spy missions.

As "Spy Kids" opens, the couple is itchy for action and ready to reprise their roles as the world's greatest spies. The mission is, what else?, to save the world, and it will involve taking on a seemingly demented kids show host Fegan Floop (played with Pee-wee flair by Alan Cumming), who is creating a legion of Robot Kids to go out and do vile, unspeakable things -- nothing real specific.

The Cortezes leave their feuding kids (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) back at home with Cheech (Marin), which I could have told them was a bad idea. The baby-sitting goes bad when Teri Hatcher and her men in black raid the home, tossing Cheech aside and driving the kids into a secret oceanside hideout that's so cool they can create Happy Meals from little packets of nothing.

Beyond the fast food, there's so much James Bond eye candy, especially in the early scenes, that "Spy Kids" feels a bit like "Willy Wonka," "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" and "The World is Not Enough" all rolled into one.

The man behind the curtain is Robert Rodriguez, an unlikely director for a family film given his track record with the indie sensation "El Mariachi" and gorefests "From Dusk Till Dawn" and "The Faculty." He manages to keep the action reasonably kid-friendly -- OK, it's a little weird when Hatcher's hair catches on fire -- without dumbing it down.

As the kids -- fighting all the way -- venture off to rescue their parents (message: Family is good), he delivers underwater chase scenes in strange contraptions like the Super Guppy; a wonderland of imaginative sets, including a dazzling Virtual Reality Room; and a battalion of bad guys who are literally all thumbs.

In the end, "Spy Kids" kind of fizzles somewhat under all the gadgets and special effects. It doesn't really have the heart and soul of "Wonka," the wit of "Pee-wee" or the big Bond climax.

But why quibble? It might not be a classic, but it's a good ride. It beats the heck out of Pokemon, and kids from about 5 to 10 (who can handle the action) will leave the theater swearing they've never seen anything like it.

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