Spy Kids

Stars:    Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Alan Cumming, Tony Shalhoub
Director:   Robert Rodriguez
Writer:    Robert Rodriguez

This James Bond flick for kids is an imaginative escapade in which adults can delight too. Robert Rodriguez, better known for his stylized shoot ’em ups, such as Desperado or horror tales From Dusk Till Dawn and The Faculty, has shown a whole new side of himself by crafting this pleasantly magical romp with inventive characters, cool gadgetry and marvelously realized settings. It’s fun from start to finish.

Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino play the married Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez, former spies, who take on a new assignment after a nine year family-raising hiatus in order to locate missing colleagues of Gregorio’s. In no time, the duo is kidnapped and transported to the loopy, mind-bending castle of villains who just happen to work on a kiddie TV show called “Floop’s Fooglies”, headed by the wicked but thoroughly engaging Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming). Head scientist Alexander Minion (Tony Shalhoub) has created numerous weird creatures including a marvelous group of henchmen called “Thumb-Thumbs”, giants whose heads and limbs are … all thumbs. He’s also involved in experiments to invent evil robot children who will be used to take over the world.

With the help of their “uncle” Felix (Cheech Marin), the Cortez’ children, the bright and outspoken Carmen (Alexa Vega) and her younger brother, the pathetically nervous and warty Juni (Daryl Sabara), escape to a safe house via a cutesy kid-sized submarine that looks like a guppy. Once at the house, they discover the truth about their parents and witness a number of nifty gadgets and gizmos. They go in search of Gregorio’s estranged gadget-making brother “Machete” (Danny Trejo) who refuses to help but they do come away with a map to Floop’s castle and the means to get there, a miniature self-guiding airplane. And to the rescue they go!

Banderas and Gugino enjoy a clever opening segment where they play out scenes from the narrated bedtime story Ingrid tells the children of two famous spies on opposite sides who, instead of wiping each other out, fell in love. After that, it’s pretty much the children’s tale. Carmen and Juni, against great odds, infiltrate the booby-trapped castle, outwit the dastardly Thumb-Thumbs, turn Floop back into the charming TV host that he was meant to be and, of course, rescue their beloved parents. Banderas and Gugino get back in the loop toward the end where there’s plenty of ‘mad-scientist’ gamesmanship to add to the fun. And they make a good job of it, too.

Robert Patrick appears as Mr. Lisp, a financier, trying to buy the robot kids; Teri Hatcher does a funny stint as a crazed double-agent known as Mrs. Gradenko and George Clooney who starred in Rodriguez’ From Dusk Till Dawn has a cameo at the end as Gregorio’s boss Devlin.

Lotta says: The kids are great; Banderas and Gugino have just the right light touch and Spy Kids is one keenly engaging kid flick.

Reviewed 12/20/01