The reviews for Spy Kids have been extremely positive, as if writer-director Robert Rodriguez has pulled off some kiddie-movie masterpiece. But I wonder whether this cross between Thunderball and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory doesn't appeal more to critics than to children. The afternoon crowd I saw it with seemed respectful but not exactly transported. Rodriguez, who's known for pouring buckets of blood on the screen (From Dusk to Dawn, The Faculty), reportedly made Spy Kids
What Spy Kids does have going for it is one of the sharpest hooks in storytelling: children who have to rescue their parents. Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino are the parents, international spies who've settled down and started a family. Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara are the kids. And when the former get lured into one more mission, it's the latter who must pry them from the clutches of Floop (Alan Cumming), a Pee-wee Herman-esque children's-show host who's building an army of childlike robots to help him ' what else? ' take over the world. "We are definitely gonna be late for school," one of the kids says to the other as they head off in a submarine that will have your own kids screaming for you to build them one in the backyard.
Rodriguez knows the effect that gadgetry can have on young minds, not to mention older minds, and he's stocked Spy Kids with such soon-to-be-popular items as exploding bubblegum and a roll-away submarine toilet that, when you're through doing your business, announces, in a friendly woman's voice, "Now flushing your poop." (That was the one time last Friday that my preteen colleagues let their critical guards down and snorted with pleasure.) I wish I could say the rest of the movie lived up to that moment, but Rodriguez seems more interested in wowing us than in wooing us. Instead of arranging his thoughts into a coherent story, he's flung them at us, undigested. You can almost hear his voice: Now flushing my poop.