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Those School-Aged Agents Are Back In "Spy Kids: All The Time In The World"

Is going to"Spy Kids" a good family mission on this rainy weekend?

Remember when you and your friends were young and made movies in the backyard? You’d get out the camera and make up a movie as it went along. The first “Spy Kids,” in 2001, reminded me of that. It felt like those movies you make as a kid... if your backyard was a big-budget movie studio.

I remember loving the film when I saw it in theaters, and as much as I liked that film and saw the two sequels, the series was mostly forgotten to me. That is until “Spy Kids: All The Time In The World” came out this Friday.  

But was the first really as good as I remember? I mean, hopefully my taste in movies has matured a bit since then. So before I sat down to watch the 2011 reboot of the series, I took to Netflix to rewatch the first. It turns out my 11-year-old self wasn’t wrong.

 The film, which tells the story of sibling Carmen and Juni Cortex (Alexa Vega & Daryl Sabara) who find out their seemingly-suburbanite parents (Carla Gugino & Antonio Banderas) are super-spies, is a fun-filled action comedy that features snappy, pun-filled dialogue, squeaky-clean action and wildly inventive visuals. While it’s mainly for the youngsters, the approach to a well-known story was so fresh, free and imaginative, it’s hard to resist its free-wheeling charm.

Unfortunately, the fourth “Spy Kids” outing, the first since 2003’s “Spy Kids 3D: Game Over,” feels like a retread of the original, with jokes and situations that seem like rejects from parts 1-3.

The kids this time are Rebecca (a plucky Rowan Blanchard), a prank-loving pre-teen, and Cecil (Mason Cook), her annoying little brother (is there any other kind?). Unbeknownst to them, their step-mom Marissa (an underused Jessica Alba, who feels somewhat bored throughout), is an ex-spy who went into retirement after the birth of her baby. Rebecca has a case of typical movie I-Hate-My-Step-Mom syndrome while Mason suffers from the even more popular Dad-Doesn’t-Have-Time-For-Me-Itis.

After an evil villain named Tick-Tock (an over-the-top Jeremy Piven, sounding like he took a gulp of helium before every take) threatens to end the world by stopping time itself, Marissa is forced to end her retirement. When Tick-Tock captures her, the kiddos are forced to save their step-mom and the world.

The whole film has the stink of redundancy about it. The story is too close to the original, the gadgets uninspired, the villain dull (compared to the colorful, quirky ones in the first two films), the adults stupid and the kids overly smart.

I even noticed two jokes that were repeated word-for-word from an earlier film. Rodriguez, who is a good writer-director, seems to have sleepwalked through this production.

How else to explain the family’s talking dog (Ricky Gervais) who relentlessly peppers each scene with one-liners that sound like rejects from Gervais’ Emmy gig. When he’s not blabbering on, he thwarts villains by peeing oil or dispensing marbles from his rear end. He is possibly the most annoying character I’ve seen all summer... and I sat through “.”

This movie is just one of a few movies I’ve seen this summer in 3D. Let me take a moment and say outright that I’m not a fan of it. Besides a few exceptions (like “Toy Story 3,” where it was used not as a gimmick but to create more realistic visuals), 3D does little but darken the screen, create slightly blurry cinematography and hike up ticket prices. “Spy Kids” features the worst kind of amusement park 3D, the type where Cheetos are flung in the audience’s face for no reason. 

The film also uses “Aroma-Scope,” a scratch-and-sniff card given to the audience. Problem is, they smell more like sugary chemicals than the given item and the amount of time it takes to do the whole ideal takes you out of the movie for a good minute. At least the film’s many scatological jokes, like the overly flatulent baby, aren’t accompanied by corresponding aromas.

I didn’t love the film. It was uninspired and lazy, with performances that are Disney Channel Original Movie level, and the theme, about not wasting time with work and living in the moment, is so crazily heavy-handed it’s almost played for laughs. Almost.

I was thinking all these things walking out the theater. While grumbling to myself about the lack of quality family entertainment, I heard a little girl, no older than seven, tell her mom, “Can we come back tomorrow and see ‘Spy Kids’ again?’

At the end of the day, does my kvetching really mean anything? “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World” is barely a mediocre film, but it wasn’t made for someone like me, a cynical college student. It was made for that wide-eyed kid who told her mother she wanted to watch the movie again before she was even out of the theater.

What I'd see this week:

  • For some adventure — “30 Minute Or Less”
  • For some drama –  “The Help”
  • For some laughs — “Crazy, Stupid, Love"
  • For a scare – “Fright Night”

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