“You have been activated.”
You’ve got to hand it to Robert Rodriguez. Since he came onto the film scene in 1992 he has earned a reputation for delivering some very innovative films. His specialty appears to run toward more adult fare with such cult hits as Dusk To Dawn, Sin City, and his recent splashes into grindhouse territory. Anyone who has seen those films might find it strange that the writer/director is also responsible for a somewhat beloved children’s franchise with the Spy Kids films. First introduced in 2001 the film pulled in a respectable box office and became a hit for the younger crowd who have fantasies of being James Bond spies with all of the terrific gadgets and the extra benefit of making evil adults look bad.
It was an innovative idea, to be sure. Rodriguez comes from a family of ten kids and has five of his own. I guess that qualifies him as an expert on kids. Spy Kids would almost certainly appear to support that. But the franchise has suffered as of late. The third film took the obvious leap to 3D as many third films do. It pulled in about as much money as the first two and appeared to put the franchise back on solid footing. But gimmicks have really taken over the shop here, and Spy Kids All The Time In The World was billed as 4D. The fourth dimension was really a return to the old smell-vision gimmick. The audience members got a scratch-and-sniff card that allowed them to experience some of the smells of the film. The 3D was strictly gimmick shots. If the film did prove one thing, however. It showed that even young kids are sophisticated enough to smell these kinds of trappings. The result is a very weak film and a disappointing return at the box office.
Marissa (Alba) has been a spy for the OSS for years. She’s the poster child for dedicated to service. She even manages to bring in the evil Dr. Tick Tock while undergoing labor. But all good things must come to an end. With the bad guy safely tucked behind bars and a new family that includes husband Wilbur (McHale), step son and daughter Cecil (Cook) and Rebecca (Blanchard) along with new baby, it’s time to quit the spy game.
One year later and she’s still trying to earn the respect of her stepdaughter Rebecca. But, there’s no time for family fun. Tick Tock has escaped and is working with new villain Timekeeper to actually steal time. Time is moving faster with each second. Eventually, Timekeeper intends to bring about the end of the world by stealing all of the time in the world. It’s a job for Marissa. What she doesn’t know is that her two adopted children have taken on the case to prove themselves. Aided by a robot dog with the sarcastic voice and wit of Rickey Gervais and the now grown-up original spy kid team of Carmen (Vega) and Juni (Sabara), they take on the super bad guy. Meanwhile husband Wilbur has been working a new television show called Spyhunter. He hopes to catch real spies in the reality show. Little does he know that his whole family is now a team of spies and they’re trying to save the world.
The story has all the right elements to make this thing work. The reunion of the original kids is a grand touch that links this film, and any new films to the old guard. The cast even includes the very capable Jessica Alba who reminds us that she still looks good in leather. But the film never lives up to any of its potential. The dialog and antics are pure camp. It’s so over the top that the thing would make Adam West blush. Just about every time or clock pun is used to death and you’ll find more fart jokes than at a Shrek marathon.
No doubt everyone had a wonderful time making the movie. The new kids are quite entertaining and carry the parts well. The film is just too loaded with gimmicks and enough sugar to put you into a diabetic shock. Give it a rent, if you must. But this is one film I’d leave on the video store shelves this holiday season.
Spy Kids 4 is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 20-25 mbps. The high definition presentation is certainly quite slick and shiny. Colors definitely have a lot of pop to them. There is a tendency to be over-bright, but that’s more or less a product of the film’s style. Black levels are solid. There’s enough detail, to be sure.
There is a 3D disc. The effects are strictly gimmick moments like hurling puke or a bowl of cheese curls.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is pretty aggressive. There are a ton of slapstick antics in the film which give a lot of opportunity for sound effects and lively surrounds. The sub is a little disappointing. Dialog is completely clear.
You get a DVD Copy, Digital Copy and 3D BD disc.
All of the features are in standard definition.
Deleted Scenes: (8:12) There are 6 with a handy play all option.
Robert Rodriguez Interview With Kid Reporter: (6:58) It’s a cute little Q&A between Rodriguez and a young girl.
Spy Kids Passing The Torch: (7:59) The old kids and the new ones talk about working together.
Rowan & Mason’s Video Diary: (4:52) Follow the young actors through a typical day in the film’s production.
How To Make A Robot Dog: (3:46) Meet Elmo, who plays the film’s dog hero.
Ricky Gervais As Argonaut: (4:20) The voice actor talks about the part and we get some recording footage.
Spy Gadgets: (3:51) A look at the set design which includes some nostalgic pieces from the first films.
I know I’m not the target audience here. Readers of this site already know that I’m more than willing to suspend belief and enjoy even the most kid-friendly film out there. And while Rodriguez tries to include some positive messages, he hits us all over the head with them. I think somewhere along the way he forgot that even a kid audience is smarter than they often get credit for. I know a lot of you were clamoring for a new film in the franchise. Now you might learn to “be careful what you wish for”.