Spy Kids (2001): ***1/2
Directed by Robert Rodriguez
If you wanted Robert Rodriguez, the kick-ass action director of El Mariachi, Desperado, and From Dusk Till Dawn, to make a kids movie, Spy Kids is pretty much the movie you'd want him to make. Although it's not quite the instant classic that those first two films of his were, it is a very good movie.
This is a kid's movie that has very few concessions to kids. Like most good kids movies, it seems like it was made so the people who made it would actually like it, not so just kids would. What few concessions there are to kids come off as even more lame because there are so few of them (the "Oh Sister/Oh Brother" joke is particularly awful). For the most part, though, it is a good, honest, mature movie that just happens to star kids.
Speaking of which, both the kids are very good in the movie. They're no Osmet or anything, but they actually convey the appropriate emotional responses and it never really sounds like they're reading their lines. Antonio Banderas has a wierd, quirky charm oozing out of every pore. He's a hoot to watch, especially when he gets flustered. Also very charming is the mother, played by Carla Gugino (who is absolutely gorgeous in this movie. I mean, my God!), who has a wistful, almost child-like energy at times.
I don't think I've seen her in any other movies (I'm pretty sure I would remember. I mean, my God!). Alan Cummings is delightful as the eccentric children's entertainer/villain, Floop, with some shades of Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka, but moving beyond just a re-tread of that character into a very unique person. Rodriguez loved filming him rushing around with his big flowing coat like a cape.
That's another thing that's very good about this movie. Rodriguez didn't direct it like a kid's movie. He directed it like his other action movies--sharp angles, dramatic zooms and slow motion, fantastic framing. It feels like a Robert Rodriguez movie.
One thing that I absolutley loved about this movie was the Spy World. This movie builds a very detailed world in which covert operations and high-tech gadgetry are the norm. But it has this fantastic innocence to it. It seems that people become spies not for the good of their respective countries, but because it is so darned much fun! The kids' Uncle "Machete" (played by a
Rodriguez mainstay--watch his other movies, you'll see) practically epitomizes the world, with his workshop full of random high-tech gizmos. Why would anybody ever invent some of the things he has? Because someday someone in this world just might need it. Floop's hideout has some very imaginative touches to it, so that it seems similar to other things you've seen, but at the same time totally original.
This is Rodriguez's first real big budget (The Faculty was a low-budget big-budget) special effects movie, and the results are mixed. The special effects are at times, unfortunately, atrocious. At times they are almost seamless. Sometimes it almost seems as though the special effects were bad on purpose, just to make a joke funnier (the hair-on-fire jetpack joke).
Oh! And one last note. This movie has the BEST BEST BEST poop joke EVER. You'll see.
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