Spy Kids

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Movie Review by Susannah Macklin

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Alan Cumming, Ashley Edner, Carla Gugino

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Take the surreal backdrop of seventies family flick Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, add the excitement and wit of James Bond, then mix with the talents of writer/director/producer Robert Rodriguez (‘Desperado’, ‘From Dusk till Dawn’) and the result is one of the best family films to hit the screens in quite some time.

Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez (Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino) are ex-world renowned spies, two old hat espionage experts originally from opposing sides who with time have been drawn together to work on a more taxing mission – marriage and kids! Their offspring, Carmen and Juni (Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara) don’t have a clue about their parent’s old activities. However when seven top spies disappear, the parents end up in a sticky situation on a mission they must undertake to find them, and the kids go in to bail their parents out. Behind the capture of the agents is a smiley but somewhat sinister character who works in kids TV, no surprises there then, but he is also Juni’s favourite TV personality Fegan Floop from the number two rated show ‘Floop’s Fooglies’. He along with sidekick Minion is determined to use the Cortez’s old spying secrets in his bid to be number one, and the kids have to fight against their lack of life experience to save the day and their family.

This is Rodriguez at pretty much his inventive best, with his imagination unleashed into a genre which knows no limits in pushing the boundaries of reality. The great gadgets, gizmos and special FX are as integral to the trajectory of this film as actors Danny Trejo and Antonio Banderas have become to Rodriguez casting process! Expect kids to ask where they can get hold of foil wrapped thingamajigs that turn into a Big Mac and fries at the press of a microwave button, and rocket fuelled jet packs. True to form though, with a reasonable budget in hand, Rodriguez doesn’t cross the fine line between innovation and cliche, instead showing originality and choosing not to squander on banalities.

A Wonka-esque Alan Cumming who over the last couple of years has been gradually making ripples into waves in Hollywood, plays a great Floop. Cumming certainly shows strains of Gene Wilder’s 1971 fantasy role as the chocolate factory chief, and is extremely well cast to live amidst Rodriguez wacky surroundings. Vega and Sabara are also naturals in this environment in their roles as the cutsey but cutting Cortez kids, making up the perfect family headed by an appealing Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino.

The only criticism of the film is the sugary message reiterated throughout that families shouldn’t be taken for granted. Although this is a sentiment that helps to underpin the story, it also labours a point that we’re already well aware of – that this is truly a family film, and fans of Rodriguez’s R rated action movies interested in seeing what he’s created here, might not take to this moralistic element.

In ‘Spy Kids’ Rodriguez has created a colourful, inventive and fantastical movie that shows the sheer range of his talent. All his hallmarks are there with action sequences that could have come from the John Woo junior range and a script and direction that demonstrate great wit, qualities not usually found side by side in a movie of this type. This is Rodriguez for kids, and family movies don’t come much better than this!

4 out of 6 stars