Never send an adult to do a kid's job?
Never send a kid to do an adult's job. Robert Rodriguez's family friendly trilogy of child oriented spy capers and adventure is one big mess, starting out on a low note, and only going lower from there, with predictable, passe, generic and formulaic stories from the man behind 'Desperado' and 'Sin City.' What happened? Why did anyone (let alone some top critics like the iconic Roger Ebert) find redeeming qualities in one of the most obviously dumbed down film series I've ever had the displeasure of viewing? Why was Rodriguez allowed to make further dumb films in this ilk, like 'The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl' and 'Shorts' (other than the obviou$)?
The trilogy of 'Spy Kids' films, obviously aimed at the youth audience (who often single-handedly make or break a film financially), have been box office successes, as well as staple home video family fare, but, in my opinion, they do not cater to adult audiences, despite containing countless amazing adult actors.
'Spy Kids' (2/5) - When the world's top spies are kidnapped (I guess they weren't really that "top," afterall...), who is going to save them? Their children, of course!
Carmen (Alexa Vega, 'Repo: The Genetic Opera') and her younger brother Juni (Daryl Sabara) Cortez are thrust into a world of espionage, intrigue, and gadgets galore, with no one to trust but each other. The children's programming host Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming, 'X2: X-Men United'), his partner Alexander Minion (Tony Shalhoub, 'Monk'), and their army of thumb creatures are trying to impress the evil Mr. Lisp (Robert Patrick, 'T2'), who plans to take over the world subversively. With Gregorio (Antonio Banderas, 'Shrek 2') and Ingrid (Carla Gugino) unable to assist their children, beyond the principles they have taught them, and their uncle (Danny Trejo), a goofy gadget maker named Machete (which has gone from fake 'Grindhouse' trailer to real film), doesn't have any interest in anything but money. Can two inexperienced spy children save the day, and the world? Is it not obvious, since there are two more movies in the series to still review?
It's truly amazing the level of talent that Rodriguez attracted to this series, with the above mentioned actors, as well as Richard Linklater, Mike Judge, Cheech Marin, Teri Hatcher, and even George Clooney! What's also amazing is that none of them can save this film, and do more to damn it than anything else. Sure, the film has to provide a kid-friendly take on a genre, but did it have to be so amazingly dumbed down and sacchyrin sappy?
The vision of Floop's Fooglies, mutated spies forced to play background characters on the popular television program, is bizarre and utterly disturbing, while the thumb army seems like a horrible set-up for one of the gag lines in the film. I get it, they're all thumbs. Gee, now we're stuck with them for the rest of the film... The gadgets in the film are fun, but they're a constant pain, as they are excessively convenient and save the day every damn time, despite being so buggy they couldn't be depended on to keep a sandwich cool. The interaction between the titular characters is forced, as they go from adversaries to seemingly best friends in minutes, and as such, don't really feel so much like siblings.
The best part of this film has to be Cumming, in the role of the extremely bizarre host. I've always felt his talents are underrated, and that's the case again here, as he provides possibly the only believable performance (with definitely the best written character, who shows actual growth and progressive change). His creep factor is high, though his arc is beyond predictable. I'll take his performance as the silver lining in this black cloud, and am already dreading the upcoming two sequels. How this film ever earned so much money to warrant a sequel is beyond me.
'Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams' (1.5/5) - When a film homages movies or themes of cinema past, and does it properly, it is often called a love letter, or tribute. The opposite, when a film digs up and mutilates a cinematic corpse, cashing in rather than showing respect, then it is called 'Spy Kids 2.'
Following up on the original, the Cortez children are top spies at the OSS, with their father in line for a promotion to be head of the spy company. That all changes when the fabled Transmooker device gets stolen from under everyone's noses. Juni is thrust into infamy, no longer the top Spy Kid, as Gary and Gerti Giggles (Matt O' Lear and Emily Osment (of 'Hannah Montana' fame)) become the top agents, under the lead of the new director, their father Donnagon (Mike Judge, 'Office Space').
The Cortez children steal an assignment meant for the Giggles kids (that just sounds so wrong), and set off for a mythical fabled land full of unusual creatures, encountering a bizarre scientist (Steve Buscemi, 'Reservoir Dogs') who is responsible for the odd hybrid animals stalking the hidden land. The Cortez' are soon again troubled by the Giggles kids, and their father, as the Transmooker is fought over between the two spy families. Khan himself (Ricardo Montalban) guests as the unnamed grandfather of the Spy kids.
'Spy Kids 2' is a film incapable of standing on its own two feet. All the major players (sans Robert Patrick) reprise their roles, including other Rodriguez faves, but the film is more like a self tribute, for more reasons than the cast, including the naming of a theme park (complete with matching mascot) that is modeled after Rodriguez's Troublemaker brand.
'Spy Kids 2' has improved humor, especially the bits surrounding the interactions between the secret service, and the daughter of the President of the USA, and the new inventions from Machete, including a watch that can do everything but tell time. Again, the parents are helpless, as the kids are tasked with saving the world (you'd think an entire agency of spies would have at least a few competent employees over the age of fifteen...), and all of the existing gags (including the not-child friendly shit...ake mushroom joke with a huge pause) recur, though seemingly forced. Again McDonald's product placement is front and...must...buy...Big Mac and large fries....
The film picks up when the island scenes begin (after some horrible sea serpent scenes), as the set up is much more dry this time around, but, unfortunately, the computer generated effects that look like Harryhausen rip offs make the entire affair laughable at best. Creatures act like they did before, but, due to technology (and budget) constraints, they look like low-res cousins, with less proportion and more jerky movement (how that is possible is beyond me). After the first film made so much bank, it would have been nice if they reinvested it in effects work. That, and having more than one scene with Fegan Floop would have been nice.
'Spy Kids 2' is a typical uninspired cash-in that again did splendid at the box office, setting the stage for yet another sequel, the third 'Spy Kids' film in three years. Considering the quality of the third film, that is yet another strike against this second entry, as it is responsible for the continuation of the series. Curse you, 'Spy Kids 2!!!'
'Spy Kids 3: Game Over' (.5/5) "No replays, no restarts."
Not that you'd want to, if you ever saw 'Spy Kids 3: Game Over' (also known as 'Spy Kids 3-D' in some circles). The third 'Spy Kids' film in three years, it seems that the well had long been tapped dry.
Carmen has found herself trapped in a virtual world, on assignment to shut down a virtual game called Game Over before it takes over the world. Retired agent Juni must enter the game, overcome its obstacles, make friendly with its beta testers, find Carmen, and stop the evil Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone), the man behind Game Over.
While the third entry into the series still features the majority of the cast it had accumulated, this fact is a hair misleading, as beyond Vega, Sabara, Judge, and Montalban, the others only appear ever so briefly in a cockameme finale that only exists in order to throw them in, an "all star segment," if you would.
Never you fear, they kept the best elements....right? Right? Oh...This time around, Sabara takes on a far greater role, as for most of the film he runs without his normal partner. Rather, he has a few new cyber friends (Ryan Pinkston, Robert Vito, Bobby Edner, and Courtney Jines) who set out to test him, to see if he's The Guy, the profile from the game artwork. But who is the Deceiver, a false messiah, a prophet who will lead gamers down the wrong path? Is it one of his friends? Is it Juni?
Yes, folks, a thinly veiled messiah vs antichrist storyline applies here, with the ever so tense build up of doubt inside the group of their own intentions. No, wait, scratch that, the Deceiver is thrown in at random near the end, an irrational plot twist that serves no real purpose.
The problems with 'Spy Kids 3' don't have so much to do with the story (which is awful in its own right), but with the execution, making me wish execution were an option rather than finishing the film (it, sadly, isn't). Stallone plays four roles, with his evil mastermind, and three consultants to himself, in the forms of a general, a professor/doctor, and a monk. It's bad, it's just plain bad.
Montalban is an absolute disaster, through his acting, and the script for his character. The "physically handicapped" (as his profile forces down our throats) grandfather of Juni and Carmen is selected to be his mentor, his assistance in the game, and immediately, he is given a power up named "mega legs." Seriously. Why does the one handicapped character in the game have to have a super powerful armor (that is ridiculous in proportion to the others, like a twenty foot Superman), that enables him to walk, ride bikes in a Mario Kart/'The Phantom Menace' inspired racing segment, and surf through lava on a stone surfboard? It's insulting, and done so terribly, especially with his dopey words of wisdom (even during the race, as a competitor...), that it's impossible to take him seriously. If anything, you feel sorry for the veteran actor.
The film isn't so much an assault on taste as it is an assault on intelligence. From the V Boxx video game console, and a later hallway that glows green in an "x" pattern, the entire set up feels like a tie in to some silly video game itself (after some research, I found this obvious tie-in was not exploited, amazingly) for the Xbox platform. It doesn't matter. George Clooney, Salma Hayek ('Desperado'), Elijah Wood ('The Lord of the Rings'), and Sly did their friend a favor, and were made to look like fools for doing so. Me? I was made the fool for being tricked into wasting nearly an hour and a half of my DLP burn time on this one. Game over.
The Disc: Vital Stats
The 'Spy Kids Blu-ray Collection' comes to...err...Blu-ray, by way of Alliance out of Canada. The three films are housed in slimline cases, with a holographic, lightly embossed box cover holding the set together. Basically, it looks just like the 'Austin Powers Collection,' only with both English and French on the packaging. All three discs are BD25s, with a few studio titles before the film starts (with no menu prompt). The packaging states the releases are Region 1...yeah, Alliance still doesn't get the Region A, B, and C thing.
'Spy Kids' (2/5) - "That's a safehouse? Looks more like an outhouse!"
The Canadian import for 'Spy Kids' comes by way of a 1080i AVC MPEG-4 encode (a misprint on the packaging clearly indicates/misleads that the film would be in 1080p), in the opened up 1.78:1 aspect ratio (compared to the theatrical 1.85:1). The print has quite a bit of small flicks of dirt at random, spread evenly throughout the flick's runtime. The first shot had me scared of what was about to come, as it was not clear by any means, but the video improves once the film transitions into beginning the tale. Colors are solid and natural, but not exactly vibrant. Stray hairs pop nicely, and edges are natural and clean. Skin tones are a wee bit too hot, with Gugino especially coming through orange often.
Black levels are far too bright, and still house a child's army of artifacts. Wide shots are amazingly dull, but they aren't the only random soft shots in the film. There's some seriously degraded stock footage in the boating sequence, and one instance of a fairly thick vertical line. Special effects stand out horrifically, which is not the fault of the transfer, other than the way it exposes the cheap effects, making them quite distracting. Faces are splotchy often, and stubble is nowhere to be found on adults. The blurry faces appear to be the victim of some DNR application, but even if that isn't the case, ugly is ugly. The way the camera moves jerkily at times, sometimes even speeding up and slowing down, doesn't help matters.
'Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams' (2.5/5) - "Stop looking at me like that."
'Spy Kids 2' is yet another video disaster, again with the misprint on the package concerning video resolution (stated 1080p on the package, but 1080i on the disc. Whoops!), again with the lightly opened up aspect ratio (1.78:1 from 1.85:1).
This second go round is basically more of the same. Skin tones go orangey a bit more, while faces sport no detail, no character, looking blurry and smudged, possibly (likely) the result of DNR application. The special effects stand out terribly, like they were made in a lower resolution, though this time there are some more noticeable halos around them (despite the box art stating they are "awesome special effects." Keep in mind, though, that the main quote for the box art states it is "James Bond for kids!"...). Let's just say that Ray Harryhausen would be spinning in his grave...if he were dead (long live the king!), as the special effects work on the creatures on the island make the claws in 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' look natural and lifelike.
Reds replicate awfully in the outfits of the magnet men ("They're men, they're magnet men! Making this film look dumb since God knows when!"), while aliasing is more an issue in this film than the previous, with moving shots sporting serious jaggies.
Blacks again play the host to artifacts galore, while color banding pops up quite often in solid colored walls. Edges are clean, as are sky shots (though they do sport some banding, as well), while grain levels spike a few times in the latter third of the film.
'Spy Kids 3: Game Over' (3/5) "So...I hear you're The Guy."
The only 1080p encode in the set, 'Spy Kids 3' looks, well, quite good, but incredibly limited by the (this is routine at this point for this series) low end special effects. Presented with an AVC MPEG-4 transfer a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this is the video highlight of the series, a scary thought, indeed.
This is a 3D film without the 3D, so it is constantly obvious when effects were meant to come out of the screen, and it was so lame, so unnatural, unlike anything you'd see in a non-gimmick film. It doesn't help that the items coming towards the screen look cheap as hell.
Detail gets a great bump compared to the other titles in this release, especially in clothing articles. Skin tones are much more natural, as well. Since the entire film is like a super bright cartoon, delineation is a non-issue. Reflections in Montalban's super suit are splendid, possibly the best example of extreme minute detail in this series.
Still, for all the goods, there's plenty of bad to be found. The panning and swirling camera effects can be nauseating, and aliasing is off the charts. Grounds literally shift back and forth in still shots, while outlines in this sparse game world are jaggy as can be. The effects integrating actors into scenery are amongst the worst green screen offenders I've ever seen, as nothing mixes properly. Special effects cheese is also on an extreme level with the lava segment, as it floats around characters, instead of clinging to them. It's utterly lame.
'Spy Kids' (2.5/5) - "Now flushing your poop"
To be fair, 'Spy Kids' doesn't sound like crap (though it is close)...it's just that line from the film was just too good to pass up. The disc defaults to the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, while a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (and a Dolby Digital French dub) are available as the only options in the menu. The lossless track is a bit less than inspiring. The entire film may look cheap, with such low budget special effects, but did it really have to sound cheap?
I knew I was in trouble early on. Some scenes had a very hollow sound to dialogue that would clear up in the very next shot, and this issue would repeat itself throughout the film, despite the fact that the environment for each sequence had not changed. There is far more surround presence than I would have expected, but it is a bit less than inspired. Sure, there's movement through channels, but it's soft and clunky, somewhat forced. There's no bass in helicopters, despite their obvious proximity to the screen. Ambience is super light, but present at all angles.
When the red alert goes off in the hideout, the noises don't blend well with dialogue, which becomes very difficult to comprehend. The songs sung by Floop have the same problem, as the words being sung cannot even be understood due to being drowned out completely by the (incredibly soft and weak) music they are for. There is no real high range to speak of, and the film is always stuck at the same level of volume, no matter how boisterous the action may get.
'Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams' (3/5)
The best portion of this disc is the audio track. Again, the disc (which has no menu) defaults to lossy English, but a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is available as the only option on the menu (besides a French dub).
Dialogue is again mostly clear, but not too dominant, as the bit of music for Floop again overrides his lyrics, and occasional effects drown out spoken word. There's some localization in dialogue this time, but at first it sounds muffled whenever it would stray from the center channel. Later effects (thoughts) would come through the rears (at first making me wonder about speaker placement, until I saw another shot with no lips moving) perfectly clean, with a tiny echo.
Bass levels are again super soft, and often sounds like it registers from the center channel rather than the sub. Localization on effects is nice, and quite frequent, with lots of surround speaker activity, though it pales in volume and emphasis compared to other elements. Movement is pathetic, feeling about as forced as any joke I would try to finish this sentence with. This track is a slight improvement compared to the first film, but it is still meager at best.
'Spy Kids 3: Game Over' (3.5/5)
Again, the default audio is lossy, and a trip to the menu is required to get to the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Alliance actually did good here, with the highest score on any portion of this release earning the distinction for a reason.
This track is somewhat more of the same, with dialogue having the occasional drowned out sound due to even the lightest presence of other elements, and some wimpy localization that feels forced, but this time around, bass levels are improved, both on soft and loud bumps, movement through channels is believable (and quite constant), and there is an actual high range, a shocker! Echos can be unnatural, and areas sound absolutely sparse, despite an on screen crowd presence, but this track is certainly an improvement, and isn't all that bad.
While the audio and video qualities of this release may be enough reason to skip this one for most, those still on the edge need to pay close attention to this area right here.
Extras. Like many other Alliance releases, there are no supplements of any kind to be found. No commentaries, trailers, deleted scenes, featurettes, documentaries, not even any Robert Rodriguez cooking classes!
Going into this series blind, I don't know what I expected, honestly. I thought it might actually be good, since it spawned a few sequels (with a fourth title in the works!). Yeah, about that. These movies go from bad, to worse, to why, God, why?!?! The presentation quality of this import trilogy also hass the ability to induce the taking of names in vain. With no extras to speak of, not even the fair price (for an import trilogy, especially) can make me recommend this to anyone. Skip it, and be glad you did.