A fine family flick

“We’re sorry! We forgot that certain types of Jet Skis aren’t allowed on Lake Tahoe!”

“We’re sorry! We forgot that certain types of Jet Skis aren’t allowed on Lake Tahoe!”

Rated 4.0

The best kids’ movie since Fly Away Home (that cute goose flick) makes it to the screen from a very unlikely source in the form of Spy Kids, written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, the man who made the grisly vampire flick From Dusk Till Dawn.

If you saw Rodriguez’s contribution to 1995’s short film compilation Four Rooms, you saw that Rodriguez can get excellent performances from kids. However, that segment was pretty sick, featuring dead hookers under bed mattresses and Tim Roth barfing, so Rodriguez’s foray into family fare comes as a surprise, and a delightful one at that.

Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino play two super-spies in semi-retirement, who are kidnapped by a mad genius (Alan Cumming), and must be rescued by their precocious, well-trained children (the amazingly good Alexa Vega as daughter Carmen and Daryl Sabara as son Juni). The film acts as a nice fantasy for adventure-seeking children and packs enough cleverness and good humor to make it well beyond satisfying for adults.

After their parents are kidnapped, the kids go on an adventure that involves jet packs, submarines, supersonic mini-jets, Teri Hatcher with her hair ablaze and evil robot versions of themselves. Rodriguez has concocted a story where not one minute seemingly goes by before the next super-cool gizmo is introduced.

At the screening I attended, the kids were screaming with delight, and so were the parents. That’s a good sign for box office success.

Any parents out there who find Teletubbies disturbing will get a kick out of Alan Cumming’s portrayal of Floop, host of a children’s show that looks like its creators were on heroin. It turns out that the TV show isn’t just an innocent acid trip, but a front for an evil empire looking to create an army of child robots to back up their relatively useless troops of thumb robots (a very weird sight to behold). Cumming is great here, sort of a deranged Willy Wonka, and considering that Gene Wilder’s Wonka was deranged in his own right, you have a good indicator of just how freaky the Floop character is.

Having watched quite a few episodes of Teletubbies over the last year, I couldn’t help but see parallels to the show in Spy Kids. I’m guessing that the bright colors, goofy songs and bizzaro fashion that the characters in Floop’s TV show speak in were the result of some major Teletubbies research. I’m also thinking Rodriguez might find that program as questionable and creepy as I do, but that’s just a guess, so no libel suits please.

Banderas, a veteran of a few Rodriguez films (Desperado, Four Rooms) is funny as the patriarch, who matter-of-factly instructs his children to physically pummel 100 killer robots apiece. Cheech Marin, who had a gory, disgusting role as a vampire in From Dusk Till Dawn, makes a good cameo as the kids’ pretend uncle with a startling ability to kick ass.

While the movie is targeted at kids, it does contain some disturbing imagery, like children with their heads open being fitted with robotic brains and some unfortunate characters being transformed into mutant freaks. Most kids can handle it, but don’t be surprised if some of the younger ones proclaim, “Mommy … too scary.”

So this one is a winner on many fronts: great special effects, a premise that would make Walt Disney jealous, fun performances and a high action factor. Best of all, Rodriguez has brought a goofy sensibility to the genre that is refreshingly inventive.

As a result of this picture, the next time I see Teletubbies, I’m gonna freak out.