Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D / * (PG)

Rebecca Wilson: Rowan Blanchard
Cecil Wilson: Mason Cook
Marissa Wilson: Jessica Alba
Wilbur Wilson: Joel McHale
Danger D’Amo: Jeremy Piven
Carmen Cortez: Alexa Vega
Juni Cortez: Daryl Sabara
Argonaut (voice): Ricky Gervais

Dimension Films presents a film directed and written by Robert Rodriguez. Running time: 89 min. Rated PG (for mild action and rude humor).

The “Spy Kids” franchise has become such a disappointment that it’s hard for me to find a place to start fuming my exasperation over it. Perhaps I’m just not the intended audience. Clearly the kids don’t care if the filmmaking is good or not. It’s got kids who are spies in it. They play with ridiculous gadgets that make no logical sense. They engage in gimmicks involving the areas of life that kids know, like food, toys, play fighting, and bodily noises. Why wouldn’t kids like it? Why must I be subjected to it in a movie theater when I can just watch my kids act like idiots at home? At least then it’s my kids I’m watching.

As you may recall from the original “Spy Kids”, the premise here is that two child siblings discover that their parents are spies and must go into action as spies themselves to save their parents from an evil madman. Well, it’s been ten years since that fairly inventive movie. Those kids are all grown up now, and hardly qualify as kids anymore. So, with “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World” we get two new kids to become spy kids.

The premise is pretty much the same. This time the spy is the stepmother, whom young Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard, “The Backup Plan”) refuses to warm up to. Her brother Cecil (Mason Cook) is more understanding that their stepmother isn’t trying to replace their mother. We’re introduced to the stepmom, Marissa (Jessica Alba, “Little Fockers”), in an opening action sequence that is supposed to be funny because she also happens to be nine months pregnant. Another twist is that their father, Wilbur (Joel McHale, “Community”), is a reality TV host who creates a show called “Spy Hunter”, where he exposes real life spies on camera.

Practically giving birth on the job, Marissa retires to be a full-time mother until a year later when her arch nemesis, The Timekeeper, resurfaces and exposes her as a spy to her stepchildren during an attack on the Wilson household. This greatly elevates Marissa in the minds of Cecil and Rebecca. However, Marissa’s superior, Danger D’Amo (Jeremy Piven, “Entourage”) remands the children to protective custody in the OSS headquarters. Of course, the children won’t sit idly by despite the room full of candy in which they’ve been deposited. Oh, and they have a robot dog with the voice of Ricky Gervais (“Ghost Town”), who also acts as the narrator. Also, Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara), the original spy kids, show up to offer some backup.

The 4th “Spy Kids” plays like some sort of Saturday programming for the Disney kids network, with its heroes as interested in eating candy as they are in spying. The adults are presented as more buffoonish than the children, and the villain doesn’t seem to pose much of a real threat since his scheme is about as well planned as the commercial programming for kids shows. Someone needs to tell the commercial programmers for kids’ networks that mothers don’t do all the cleaning anymore, nor do parents bother watching what their kids see on television. So, there’s no need to advertize Mr. Clean on Saturday mornings anymore. Keep it on the Lifetime channel.

I apologize for veering off course there, but criticizing children’s television programming is more interesting than concentrating on just how terrible “Spy Kids 4” is. What’s worse is that like the terrible “Spy Kids 3”, the 4th one is also in 3D. So while sitting through some terrible villain monologue, we also have to deal with writer/director/producer/composer/photographer Robert Rodriguez (“Desperado”) pointing and throwing objects at the camera every two minutes to remind us that this is a different kind of theatrical experience. It really isn’t all that different anymore, since every other movie out there is doing this now.

To make the production even more obnoxious, Rodriguez is also forcing the exhibitors to hand out scratch and sniff cards to the audience members to add a fourth dimension to the movie. Aroma isn’t actually another dimension, is it? Never mind. There are numbers on the cards that correspond with numbers that are flashed on the screen. Viewers are supposed to scratch the numbers on the card when the same number appears on screen to smell what the characters smell. Several of these smells are indistinguishable from each other and a few involve flatulence, so, I can only recommend that you don’t bother with the 4D element.

I admired the first “Spy Kids” movie for its willingness to veer into absurdity in its attempt to replicate the imaginations of children. Unfortunately, the series has fallen deeper into the senselessness and unstructured thinking of infantile storytelling as it’s continued. While the series began with absurdity, it quickly fell into stupidity, and now, I just wish it would go away.

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