“Spy Kids” is a wildly inventive kids’ movie that doesn’t pander to its audience, isn’t full of potty humor, and teaches a good message. In other words, it’s a freak of nature.
Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, whose previous work includes the bloody and very-adult “From Dusk Till Dawn” and “The Faculty,” “Spy Kids” tells of a successful secret-agent duo who retired from active duty in order to get married and have kids.
They are the Cortez family: Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino), whom we meet years later, when their kids are in grade school. Bossy sister Carmen (Alexa Vega) and hapless little brother Juni (Daryl Sabara) have no idea of their parents’ secret lives, for one simple reason that every kid will understand: “They can’t be spies,” Carmen says upon learning the truth. “They’re not cool enough!”
Gregorio and Ingrid are called out of retirement when it’s discovered that a kids’ TV show host named Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming) is kidnapping spies and turning them into the lovable mutants featured on his program. Floop’s plan is to assemble an army of robot kids to do his bidding, but he needs a synthetic brain to make them function properly — a brain that the agents he’s been kidnapping once worked on.
Gregorio was on the project, too, which is why Floop lures him and Ingrid into active duty. They are promptly kidnapped, leading to Carmen and Juni’s discovery of their parents’ history, as well as the necessity that they rescue Mom and Dad before it’s too late.
The film is a child’s fantasy. Carmen and Juni get to fly around with jet packs, pilot a super-fast airplane, and stay up past their bedtime. They prove themselves more adept at spy work than their suave but rusty parents.
As characters, Carmen and Juni are a breath of fresh air. They’re savvy and smart, but not obnoxious or precocious. Their interaction is full of sibling rivalry that is often very pointed, but it’s all resolved nicely in the end.
There is violence, but it’s mostly non-graphic slapstick stuff. And when it’s all said and done, it is intelligence and wit that help the good guys win, not weapons and muscles. Family unity and trust are also played up.
All that wholesomeness (there’s a poop joke or two, but nothing serious), and it’s funny, clever and exciting, too. It’s the rare film that is both “good” (i.e., inoffensive and uplifting), and “good” (i.e., well-made). Take the kids and enjoy.
A- (; )
In 2011, I reconsidered this movie for my "Re-Views" column at Film.com.