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'Spy Kids': Clever Offspring of 007

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 30, 2001


    'Spy Kids' Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega in "Spy Kids." (Dimension Films)
Imagine a James Bond movie made for a 10-year-old. What would that be? Well, it would just be a James Bond movie. Okay. So, now imagine a James Bond movie made for a 5-year-old, and that's how you get "Spy Kids," written and directed by Robert Rodriguez ("El Mariachi"), which takes the Bond gestalt and infantilizes it even further.

A question arises: Do we reach a point of diminishing returns? Is there a moment after which this idea can be infantilized no further?

I would have thought so, but clearly Rodriguez is much smarter, for he's actually brought it off, a swirling whirligig of an international spy thriller in which our heroes, the kids, save those two helpless old doddering fogies, Mom and Dad (and also, I guess, the world). Plus, they set Teri Hatcher's hair on fire.

Rodriguez has two things going for him. First, as his work for adults has shown, he has one of those natural senses of film kinesthetics (James Cameron has it, too; so, I think, does Spielberg). He thinks in terms of movement and he has a capacity to throw images together in highly refined skeins, capable of fooling you into believing anything. He did it in "Desperado," that goofball remake of his own "El Mariachi" in which Antonio Banderas regularly killed dozens and dozens of Mexican bad guys in bars and you actually swallowed it. And he does it here, continually.

The second – this is new to Rodriguez's oeuvre – he has an endless visual bounty. Where he comes up with these gimcracks and gizmos, I wouldn't know, but some of them are lulus.

My favorite, after Teri's flaming hair, was a kid-size jet plane, an extremely convincing movie illusion. Rodriguez said that he wanted to make a movie he could take his three kids to and yet enjoy himself, and I would say he has come quite close.

Retired international spies Gregorio Cortez (Banderas) and Ingrid Cortez (Carla Gugino) live happily in a modest $10 million mansion overlooking the Pacific, happily raising their two kids, Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara), who have become devotees of the Fegan Floop TV show. What they don't know is that Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming) is actually a front for a secret think tank that has been hired to construct an army of robot kids, through which the noncreative can take over the world. Where have they been? The noncreative took over the world years ago.

Well, the only thing missing is a brain, and the only one who has designed a brain for this army is Gregorio. So you can see where this one is headed: The bad guys, led by Hatcher, kidnap the adults in order to get the brain.

The two kids, who thought their parents were boring icky old dorks, have got to save them by penetrating the secret complex. That complex is particularly impressive; it's the Wicked Witch's castle as imagined by someone who's looked at too many M.C. Escher prints.

As a piece of almost dadaist filmmaking, "Spy Kids" is great fun with its continual spirit of invention. Rodriguez hopes to reach children with his myth of childhood empowerment, and adults with his hip movie stylings, sending up old favorites as he goes along.

"Spy Kids" (88 minutes) is rated PG for cartoonish violence.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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