Spy Kids
directed by Robert Rodriguez
(Dimension, 2001)

The multi-talented Robert Rodriguez, noted for his success making fast-paced very violent adult action/suspense/thriller-type movies on very low budgets, now offers up an equally frenetically-energized cinematic outing -- this time a wholly family-oriented James Bond spoof on a much more lavish scale.

The delightfully ridiculous plot of Spy Kids concerns Gregorio Cortez (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino), the world's spiffiest super-spies who fall in love rather than fulfill their assignment to do each other in. Nine years later, happily married and living in the lap of luxury as "consultants," they are the parents of two children who don't know about their Mom and Dad's eventful pasts. But the Mr. and Mrs. just can't get the itch for high-tech espionage behind them. When the couple is called upon by their former OSS boss to investigate the disappearances of a number of their still-active colleagues, they eagerly leap back into action.

A little rusty, they soon become captives of the wacky, demented Fegan Floop (Alan Cummings) and his henchman Alexander Minion (Tony Shalhoub), the true manipulator behind-Floop's-scenes. Floop, like Minion, shares mad-scientist schemes, but unlike his No. 1 aide, finds his true metier in the role of children's TV show host, broadcasting his No. 2-rated program, Floop's Fooglies, from his island fortress -- a surreally gorgeous design concept that would do Dr. Seuss proud. The mystery of the missing agents soon gets solved, for techno-wizards Floop and Minion have transformed them into the bizarrely costumed, mutated, puppet-like creatures that cavort on-screen in the kiddy-TV broadcast. The villainous pair's plans, just getting started, also include the creation of a super-race of deadly robot children that will aid them in their agenda of world domination while Floop also hopes that the Fooglies will hit No. 1 in the ratings!

To save their parents, the kidnapped agents and the planet, spunky, resourceful, pre-adolescent Carmen (Alexa Vega) and her lovably dorky younger brother Juni (Daryl Sabara) must quickly learn the family trade and sally forth armed with the likes of a Super Guppy submersible, Buddy Jet Packs, a miniature plane and other cool gizmo help from Gregorio's estranged elder-brother inventor Machete (Danny Trejo).

The two young titular stars deliver amazing performances, always natural and projecting a great sense of fun, going through their paces in the superbly-staged action sequences that include a Thunderball-style motor boat escapade and a dizzying rocket-propelled-pack chase above a sprawling city. The grownups hold their own, too, especially Cummings playing the zany, ultimately sympathetic Floop; Shalhoub as the truly evil genius Minion; Banderas and Gugino, the dashing, romantic and caring parents; and Teri Hatcher, Cheech Marin and Robert Patrick -- significant supporting characters who gamely allow themselves to be humiliated, set afire or get beaten up. Spy Kids also serves up plenty of campy fun in the form of weird-looking creatures, an army of super-powered, sinister robot children and the cleverly-conceived team of lumbering hench-things literally all thumbs where the head, arms and legs would be and dressed in snazzy red sweater short-suits! No spy story would be complete without gadgets galore and Spy Kids comes through on that score too with the ingenious electro-shock bubblegum, the acid crayons, microscopic cameras and the cyberpunky, computer-screened, wired sun-glasses.

Although a moral message lies at the heart of Spy Kids, (a subtext about the importance of family and of staying together), the film never condescends to its target audience or cloys with syrupy sentiment. Spy Kids refreshingly wallows in its Latino flavor, from the Tex-Mex locations to the ethnicity of the protagonists -- a welcome opportunity to give folk of this background, the spotlight. The movie also delivers the goods in this pure fantasy romp through extreme 007 territory. Crammed with great and goofy gadgets, exciting chase sequences, excellent special effects, loads of laughs and some fabulous sets that look like a cross between Jules Verne and Dr. Seuss, Spy Kids dazzles with its charming, colorful live-action cartoon sensibility and lovely score -- all this helmed Rodriguez's considerable creative clout. This movie so delights that a sequel in the offing seems inevitable.

[ by Amy Harlib ]
Rambles: 14 July 2001

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