stars out of 5
Colourful, inventive, fast-moving fantasy adventure that kids will love and adults will be grateful for.
Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino play retired super-spies Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez, currently embarked on the ‘far more dangerous mission’ of parenthood.
However, when their former colleagues start disappearing, they
are none-too-reluctantly brought out of retirement, only to find themselves swiftly kidnapped by Evil Genius Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming).
When Floop’s goons attack their house, the two unsuspecting Cortez kids, Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) suddenly find themselves plunged into a world of bizarre gadgets (including jet-packs and electro-shock bubble-gum) and pursued by Floop’s genetically-engineered henchmen, the Thumb-thumbs.
Realising that it’s up to them to save their parents, they head for Floop’s secret lair…
An action-packed secret agent adventure for kids is the last thing one would expect from writer-director Robert Rodriguez, whose last films were the hyper-violent Desperado (also starring Banderas) and schlocky aliens-in-high-school flick The Faculty. However, his latest film is, for the most part, a delight – it’s packed full of wild ideas, likeable characters, imaginative sets, fabulous gadgets that ‘Q’ would have killed for (check out the underwater bubble-car thingy) and, for the most part, it all zips along at a pleasingly hectic pace.
In fact, the film’s only flaw is that it loses its way in the last fifteen
minutes, lacking the crowd-pleasing ‘against-the-clock’ climax it so desperately cries out for (like, say, the climax of Back to the Future).
Luckily, the film has sustained so much momentum up until this point that its target audience are unlikely to notice and will lap the film up regardless, though discerning adults may come away somewhat disappointed.
That said, there’s an awful lot to enjoy here and the sheer exuberance of it all puts ostensibly similar films such as Inspector Gadget to shame.
As well as the obvious appeal to kids of all the different gadgets and so on, there are also several gags for adults, too, particularly in the character’s names, e.g, Floop’s assistant is called ‘Minion’; another character is called ‘Mr Lisp’ ("Everything’s ready, Mr Lithp" "It’s LISP!") and so on. There are also several stupid, yet amusing running gags, such as the abundance of fake moustaches used as disguises and the way the Thumb-thumbs keep bumping into things.
The acting is excellent. Banderas and Gugino (last seen in Snake Eyes) are both well-cast and make an excellent team - Rodriguez makes them look particularly cool during their ‘flashback / bedtime story’ scenes that explain how they met.
There’s also great support from Alan Cumming (who plays Floop like a megalomaniac Willy Wonka), as well as Teri Hatcher,
Robert Patrick, Tony Shalhoub and Rodriguez regulars Cheech Marin (as ‘Uncle’ Felix) and Danny Trejo as Machete.
There’s even a high-profile celebrity cameo at the end, which, unfortunately, most reviews have already given away!
It’s the kids who carry the film, though, and they’re both excellent – not at all the super-smart wise-cracking brats you might expect, but instead average kids who make mistakes and have their own problems to deal with.
It’s also to Rodriguez’ credit that he has reversed the usual Hollywood ethnology by making all the heroes Latino and all the villains American WASP-types.
For 70-odd minutes, then, this is terrific fun that packs more ideas and gags into that short running time than you’d find in three times as many run-of-the-mill kid’s movies - it’s only a shame that it’s let down by its disappointing climax.
That said, this is by far and away the best kid’s movie to have come along for a very long time indeed, and any adults that
find themselves dragged along to this won’t be disappointed. Happily, a sequel is already on its way.