Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D
What It Is
The stars of the old Spy Kids movies are no longer kids, of course. Spy Kids 3D: Game Over was released way back in 2003. But the new generation — another brother and sister, Cecil (Mason Cook) and Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard) Wilson — are just as rambunctious and fearless as the previous kids. And indeed, when Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara) show up partway through Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D, they can’t help but see themselves mirrored in the Wilsons.
All four kids — from now and then — are sort of related, by marriage anyway. Cecil and Rebecca’s stepmother is the Cortezes’ aunt, Marissa (Jessica Alba), now married to Wilbur Wilson (Joel McHale). While he hosts a TV show called Spy Hunter, she’s an actual spy, though he and the children have no idea. Because he works so many hours, he has precious little time for his family. And although Marissa gives up spying in order to stay home with the kids, Rebecca in particular is resentful, as well as prone to engineering pranks, like dumping food on people or tripping them up with wires.
Marissa is introduced while on a mission, trying to capture the villain Tick Tock (fond of keeping time, wearing watches, ordering about his minions, and threatening to bring on the end of the world, at least partly at the behest of his boss, another masked man called Timekeeper). At the time, she’s very pregnant, which provides for some sight gags and also for the “one year later” transition to her remarkable brilliance (with the help of some gizmos and gadgets) as a new mom.
She’s less expert as a step-mom, and though she tries to keep all the kids safe from the spy world, even assigning them a scruffy robotic dog babysitter named Argonaut (voiced by Ricky Gervais, sounding rather like Russell Brand, or is it vice versa?). But a couple of Marissa’s well-intended efforts go awry, and it’s not long before the home is invaded, the kids are kidnapped, and everyone — including dad, hapless and more or less clueless throughout most of the film — is busy battling bad guys.
Why It’s Fun
The plot is both predictable and loose, meaning that it doesn’t make much sense, but provides a few entertainments. And yes, these are frequently crude and unclever.
Toward advancing technologies, this fourth film offers up the expected 3D (improving on the franchise’s last 3D outing, but not by much), and doubles down with what it’s calling a fourth sensory dimension, smell. In the theater, this involves a scratch-off card with numbers, with some unsurprising choices (farts and poop smells, food aromas). If the smells don’t precisely expand the experience of the movie, they do give kids a chance to count and read numbers in the dark.
And here’s a very pleasant surprise: Cecil has hearing aids. The film never explains how he came to wear them, but does show how he can use them to his advantage, namely, turning them down when he tires of Rebecca’s complaining about their stepmother. He’s a completely regular kid, who happens to wear these gadgets in his ears that help him hear sounds in the world around him.
The best thing about this Spy Kids movie is what’s best about all of them (save for the rather desperate-seeming third): it likes the kids and represents them mostly with respect (even with the fart jokes). Here Rebecca and Cecil are people with ideas and desires and concerns, not props for adults or illustrations of adult themes. The spy kids are sometimes childish, often resourceful, and always lively.
Who’s Going To Love It
Viewers fond of poop jokes will be pleased.
Kids who liked the other Spy Kids movies are probably too old for this one, but a new set of kids might like to imagine themselves doing what bigger spies and superheroes do. That Rebecca and Cecil also argue and compete, sometimes ridiculously, helps them to seem like kids you might know, kids with siblings and kids who are siblings — the movie advises all to get along, and not to take for granted the time we have with each other.
What To Be Aware Of
Marissa leaves her young stepchildren alone to complete a mission. They’re guarded by the robot dog, but still, alone when the scary bad guys in masks bash in the front door, chase them into the “panic room”, and then continue to follow them on a high speed mini-spaceship chase.
This chase ends when Cecil figures out that he can toss his full-up barf bags at the villains, and so upset their flights: the puke in the faces is gross.
The movie is loud and full of action, including car chases, explosions, and fights with squads of men in suits and clock-face masks. The frenetic nature of all this action might affect younger viewers.
The film is relentlessly good-humored, if not always as funny as it thinks it is, making fun of its own franchise as well as the spy movies it emulates. Still, it does stoop low, more than once, for the poop and fart joke, usually provided by Marissa’s baby, but also by the dog Argonaut. Marissa even swings a poopy diaper bag at a couple of thugs to vanquish them, but good. The poop in the faces is gross.
One almost-swear-word, when Carmen realizes the crew has walked into a trap and says, “Shit-ake mushrooms!”
5 out of 10
Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Jessica Alba, Joel McHale, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Rowan Blanchard, Mason Cook, Ricky Gervais, Jeremy Piven
Studio: Dimension Films
US Premiere: August 19, 2011
UK Premiere: August 19, 2011