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Spy Kids

Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids amounts to more than its title (or marketing) suggests. It's an extremely well-crafted piece of children's entertainment — an attention-deficit mix of parental comedy, kid logic, Surrealism, 5000 Fingers of Dr. T-esque bizarro imagery, and sharp editing and writing. It's entertainment with real craft. It's an image bomb. Certainly, the costumes and gadgets and effects look deeply, powerfully cartoony. The lurid color scheme hearkens more to Barry Levinson's legendary miscarriage Toys than to sharp kids' fare. But taken as a whole, not in bits and pieces, the general goofiness serves the story and its airtight kid-logic universe. Two children (Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara) of retired spies (Carla Gugino, Antonio Banderas) are unaware of their parents' intrepid careers. That is, until said parents are captured by an archvillan (Alan Cumming) and his scheming assistant (Tony Shaloub) — at which point the kids' babysitter (Cheech Marin) blows the folks' cover, and the kids are rudely embarked on a rescue mission, which they accept without any apparent moments of doubt. Well-edited mayhem, sharper-than-necessary dialogue, jet packs, sibling rivalry, doppelganger robots, virtual reality, and dozens of silly gadgets ensue. Among the many strong points of Spy Kids are the two child actors, who underplay, play their own evil twins, and perform in complicated action sequences without ever breaking suspension of disbelief — the film's light subject mater belies the enormity of this achievement. Banderas and Gugino are also good, and they don't fall into the usual kids'-movie parental caricature of being mean, misunderstanding, mushy or moronic. Even better, nary a tear is shed (when's the last time a kids' movie didn't feature a weeping moppet?). Amidst it all, Rodriguez's editing and shot placement are sharp and tight. The only drawbacks are that the film may move a little to fast for younger kiddies, and Cheech Marin's character is painfully underused. Buena Vista's Spy Kids DVD offers a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with DD 5.1 audio. There are no notable extras to speak of, but it should be noted that a larger Spy Kids disc is expected down the road with the longer "director's cut" and additional features. Fans will enjoy this one for the movie itself; collectors may want to wait. Keep-case.
—Alexandra DuPont



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