Wednesday, 24 August 2011

'Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D' review:

It's been almost a decade since Robert Rodriquez seemed to conclude his 'Spy Kids' trilogy with 'Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over', with the stories of Juni and Carmen Cortez (Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega) reaching their conclusion in a star-studded adventure presented in crude anaglyph 3-D. Yet with the current trend in 3D, the series has returned with 'Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D': with new kids - Cecil and Rebecca Wilson (played by Mason Cook and Rowan Blanchard) - a Ricky Gervais voiced talking dog and scratch and sniff "aroma-scope" serving as the titular fourth dimension.

The now-adult Sabara and Vega return to provide some welcome continuity, but with a new family the focus of proceedings, this fourth installment sees Jessica Alba cast as Marissa: a spy step-mom, struggling to connect with Cecil and Rebecca after marrying their father (Joel McHale) and retiring from the espionage trade to raise her newborn baby girl. But when an old nemesis - Tick Tock - escapes prison and seeks to destroy the world by ending time itself, Marissa is brought back into the fold by her old boss, played by the charismatic Jeremy Piven. Piven clearly relishes his role, approaching it with the same enthusiasm that saw the likes of Stallone, Clooney and Buscemi provide such entertaining turns in the original trilogy.

Much of the good-natured, joyously naive spirit of those first films remains intact here, as does the franchise's penchant for earnest, if slightly heavy-handed, moralising about the importance of family. And though Mason and Blanchard never quite recreate the chemistry of the original kids, it's difficult to watch the movie without a smile on your face. Rodriquez admirably continues his own Miyazaki-esque trend for humanising the major bad guys, whilst his decision to give one of the heroes (Cecil) a hearing aid - not to mentioning showing a heavily pregnant Alba confidently kicking ass - also reinforces the overall positive vibe of the piece.

Not only do Rodriquez children's films not talk down to the intended young audience but they don't talk up to them either. The films are aimed squarely and shamelessly at children with next to no concession for adults. It's an imaginative, wish-fulfillment fantasy and the showing I was at was packed with kids - mostly under 10s - who absolutely howled with delight whenever a baby farted or Gervais' comedy dog made a sarcastic observation. He knows this audience and delivers exactly what they want, with even the scratch and sniff gimmick (and I'm sure even he would admit it's exactly that) going down a storm with youngsters. It would seem somewhat churlish and meaningless to point out that all eight fragrances ultimately smell the same: it's hardly the point.

Even the slightly outdated DIY CGI that has become part and parcel of Rodriquez's campy house style and the poorly choreographed fight scenes (which play like something out of TVs slapstick 'Lazy Town' rather than 'El Mariachi') add to the atmosphere of a movie that really is just innocent, imaginative fun in the best possible sense. The scenes following Joel McHale's dad character as host of TV show "Spy Hunter" feel out of place, falling completely flat, and toilet humour reins supreme, but the 'Spy Kids' movies still represent far and away the best live action films that cater specifically to this age group of the last ten years.

'Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D' is out now in the UK and rated 'PG' by the BBFC.

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