Spy Kids Reviewed by Christian Pyle Written and Directed by Robert Rodriguez Starring Antonio Banderas, Alan Cumming, Carla Gugino, Daryl Sabara, and Alexa Vega Grade: A-
Once upon a time, two rival spies, Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino), decided to get married instead of killing each other. They retired to a beautiful house by the sea and had two kids, Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara). However, when spies start disappearing, Gregorio and Ingrid can't help getting involved. They're soon captured by evil mastermind Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming), the host of a surreal children's show that serves as a front for his scheme to replace the children of world leaders with robot duplicates called "spy kids." Carmen and Juni realize that it's up to them to save their parents and the world . . .
Writer/Editor/Director Robert Rodriguez announced himself as a talented action stylist in 1992's "El Mariachi" and its larger budget sequel "Desperado." However, he refrained from taking the obvious "guns and explosions" route to mainstream success and, instead, experimented with bizarre comedy ("Four Rooms") and horror both campy ("From Dusk Till Dawn") and straight ("The Faculty"). Only the last proved to be a disappointment as it lacked any of Rodriguez' personal touches. Luckily the same cannot be said of his foray into the family film.
Despite its mainstream marketing campaign, "Spy Kids" has a rough, indie feel that makes it the freshest family fare in years. Rodriguez sets the action south of the border (a welcome antidote to Disney's idea of diversity) and has no qualms about casting the fearsome-visaged Danny Trejo ("Desperado," the "Dusk" trilogy) as the kids' uncle. The Pokemon-saturated rugrats will still love it, though. They'll relate to feuding siblings Carmen and Juni and love the many kindergarten Q-Branch spy gadgets the kids use, including electro-shock gumballs, acid-dispensing crayons, and cement silly string. (Why does their parents' arsenal include only weapons shaped like toys? We're not supposed to ask questions like that.) Most of all, young viewers will appreciate seeing kids save the day with courage and ingenuity. Parents will like the emphasis Rodriguez places on family unity.
Look for several familiar faces in the cast -- including Teri Hatcher, Cheech Marin, Robert Patrick, Tony Shalhoub -- and a special surprise cameo by a former vampire hunter.
© 2001 Christian L. Pyle
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