by Eric D. Snider
Released: July 30, 2004
I never saw the original "Thunderbirds" TV series, so I don't know: Was it boring and stupid? Because if it was, then the movie captures it perfectly!
Fans of the show enjoyed its odd, marionette-based acting and what I assume were pleasantly cheesy special effects. The film, directed by Jonathan Frakes ("Clockstoppers," "Star Trek: Insurrection"), uses real actors instead of puppets and has fairly modern special effects -- though to be fair, many of the actors do seem rather wooden, so perhaps Frakes adhered more closely to the original formula than it first appears.
The Thunderbirds are a team of daring rescuers who fly around the world in their fancy jets whenever there's trouble. I do not know whether they are supported by the U.N., but they are certainly international in their scope. No one knows who the individual members of the Thunderbird team are, nor where they operate from.
Turns out they live on an island, and they're the Tracy family, consisting of father Jeff (Bill Paxton) and five sons. (Mom died in an avalanche or something. Dad's still a little broken up about it.) Alas, there are only five magical Thunderbirds flying vehicles, so the youngest son -- teenage Alan (Brady Corbet) -- has to go to school and watch the TV news jealously as his dad and brothers perform acts of heroics.
The Tracys are aided in their missions by the lovely Lady Penelope (Sophia Myles) and her feckless valet Parker (Ron Cook), both of whom are British, which comes in handy anytime tea is needed, I guess. Also living on the island, for some reason, is a Polynesian family that includes a daughter named Tintin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens); also there is a scientist named Brains (Anthony Edwards) and his son, Fermat (Soren Fulton), who is Alan's age and is very nerdy. No doubt he was named after Pierre de Fermat, the 17th-century French mathematician. Of course, his name was pronounced "Fair-MAH," and the kid's is "FUR-matt," but you can't have everything.
There's a bad guy with dull intentions (he wants to rob banks) named The Hood (Ben Kingsley) who wears mascara and minces like a rejected James Bond villain. He locates Tracy Island and tricks everyone into going into space to help out one of the Tracy boys, leaving all the Thunderbird technology and spare planes at his disposal. Of course, he is unaware that there is a fifth Tracy boy, Alan, who is still on the island with Fermat and Tintin. It falls upon them to rip off the plot of "Spy Kids," thwart the evil The Hood, and save the banks from being robbed by him. Yawn.
Now, if I wanted to see a "Thunderbirds" movie -- and I didn't, but if I did -- I would probably want it to focus on, I don't know, maybe THE THUNDERBIRDS. I wouldn't want to see all of the Thunderbirds incapacitated for most of the film while their little brother scampers around an island with his two dorky friends trying to stop a fey bank robber. This would not be satisfactory to me as a "Thunderbirds" fan.
So fans of the old show won't like it, though they will probably enjoy the cool opening credits and nifty retro production design. So who will like the movie? Well, it's aimed at kids -- what with the PG rating and the crotch-kick jokes and the simple-minded plot -- and maybe they'll dig it. Who knows with kids? They like some crappy stuff sometimes.
It is sad to see someone as dignified and well-respected as Ben Kingsley doing this sort of demeaning work. It's like watching Julie Andrews snort cocaine off Adam Sandler's butt.
The Hood has a henchperson named Transom (Rose Keegan) who has huge horse teeth, which makes her ugly. This is an example of Hollywood's double standards: She has enormous teeth and it's supposed to be funny, but when Julia Roberts has the same enormous teeth, it's supposed to be beautiful. Make up your mind, Hollywood.
Rated PG, two "dammits" and some very mild action violence
1 hr., 30 min.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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