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Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) lead a typical boring life, the children of typical boring parents. Or so they think. When Mom and Pop disappear they discover the truth: their parents (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) were once crack secret agents who retired to raise their children. Retired until now that is. When a new mission gets them into serious danger, it is the kids who must come to the rescue—and save both their parents and the world from the diabolical plans of the fiendish Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming). What hope have these pint-sized spies? Their genes of course.

Spy Kids is the James Bond film that Roald Dahl should have penned—instead of the disappointingly sluggish You Only Live Twice. It is 007 for kids, only better. It has the action, the adventure, the mad but brilliant villains with their thuggish, mindless henchmen (well, hench-thumbs), the silly and witty one-liners, and the whiz-bang gizmos (in fact these make Q look like an amateur dabbler). Of course it doesn’t have the secret-agent sexual exploits but anyone from eight to eighty would have to agree that Gugino is a mighty sexy combination of Mother and Emma Peel. Surfeiting on the Ham is the danger for actors doing caricatures, but both Gugino and Banderas have just the right look and balance—as do the eponymous kids—to blend in naturally with the mindboggling milieu. Alan Cumming, as Willy Wonka meets Blofield-with-a-conscience, has more latitude, and wrings every inch of zaniness from it. But the real star is writer/director Rodriguez whose visual dexterity is well known, but whose ability to cook-up a kidpic with a piquant premise and sweet centre—Spielberg/Henson fairytale escapism with a Dahlesqe twist—is something of a surprise. The imagery and narrative are pastiches, yet linked with such imagination and wicked cleverness as to create a refreshing and original entertainment. Even the opening gambit of dear but ostensibly dull family members with exciting secrets has a venerable history extending from The Spy With The Cold Nose through to True Lies. A fantastical Gothic castle, virtual reality sequences, chimerical creatures and intricate labyrinths—both visual and narrative—are jumbled up and lacquered with contemporary spit and polish. Spielberg sent a child on an airborne bicycle ride to evoke the youthful yearning for freedom and independence; Rodriguez gives his young protagonists a ride that is altogether out of this world. In so doing, he has achieved the seemingly impossible, bringing style, bite and savvy to the modern concept of the family movie.
Brad Green

Robert Rodriguez wanted Spy Kids to feel like it had been made for kids by kids. Mission: Accomplished. I first watched it with a restless 747 full of ten-year-olds, and they were a captive audience in every sense. The maker of From Dusk Til Dawn may seem an unlikely choice of babysitter, but Rodriguez seems to connect with ankle biters in much the same way British author Roald Dahl did. The story is a treat. As ever the kids get to turn the tables on the wicked adults, but they also get to save their captive parents in an unusual twist on the family outing. Rodriguez directs (and writes, and shoots, and edits) with plenty of vim. The action zips along as the Spy Kids’ lives are turned upside down in an afternoon and they embark on an old-school adventure that’s all secret passages, false moustaches and revolving walls. Double act Juni and Carmen bicker like little devils, but they’re angels at heart, battling the baddies in the name of family honour. Alexa Vega’s Carmen is a typically bullying elder sister and Daryl Sabara, in his first feature, is hilarious as Juni—a perpetual look of bemusement on his nine-year-old face. You wonder just how much of it is acting, Sabara’s naïve performance is a world away from the knowing mugging of child stars in the Macaulay Culkin mould. His natural, slapstick timing would put Jerry Lewis to shame. Alan Cumming is equally perfect as the Willy Wonkaesque baddie whose retro-futuristic factory creates mutant fighters rather than exotic chocolate bars. Banderas too is a hoot to watch, flaunting the comic talents that Hollywood so often ignores and sending up his suaver-than-thou image with a healthy dollop of self-deprecation. Banderas and Gugino provide a whole different storyline for adults to enjoy, as the ageing agents who slip out of parenthood by the back door to see if they can still cut it like they used to.
Stuart Whitmore

Spy Kids is one of those rare family/kiddie films good enough to top the box office charts (even if it is arguably only the best of a bad bunch). Often described as James Bond meets Harry Potter, Spy Kids is an action-packed, intelligent, funny, colourful, beautifully stylised fantasy film with more gimmicks than Inspector Gadget and as much flamboyant extravagance as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Ultimately the bulk of credit must go to Rodriguez whose roles here include writer, director, producer, editor, visual effects supervisor and composer. In fact, one can’t help but feel that Rodriguez is in his element in the genre of the family film, where over-packed extravagance is regarded more kindly than elsewhere. Whatever the case, Spy Kids certainly manages to avoid most of the pitfalls normally associated with the genre, but nonetheless has some notable problems that keep it from reaching its full potential. The child-stars let the film down with some (to be expected) unrefined performances. The script, packed with ingenious themes, does not quite live up to its promise in delivering interesting dialogue. Also, the bad guys are more interesting, more funny and in many ways more appealing than the good guys. For example, Floop, the evil genius, is by far the most interesting (perhaps even the most likeable) character. His foot soldiers are fumbling thumb men (thumbs for limbs), he has a mass of awe-inspiring inventions, he doodles by sculpting superb figures out of plasticine and he lives in a remote colourful castle that resembles an expressionist painting. Like most things the good or bad of the film depends on your perspective: I doubt there is a child who wont enjoy the film, adults on the other hand will have mixed responses. A likeable (but not excellent) film.
Michael Shane

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CAST: Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Alan Cumming, Tony Shalhoub, Teri Hatcher, Robert Patrick

DIRECTOR: Robert Rodriguez

PRODUCER: Elizabeth Avellan, Robert Rodriguez

SCRIPT: Robert Rodriguez

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Guillermo Navarro

EDITOR: Robert Rodriguez


MUSIC: Danny Elfman (theme music), John Debney, Gavin Greenaway, Harry Gregson-Williams, Heitor Pereira, Robert Rodriguez

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes


QLD, VIC; Sept 20, 2001
NSW, WA, SA; Sept 27, 2001

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: March 6, 2002

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