As I mentioned somewhat regularly in my review for the Canadian release of the 'Spy Kids' trilogy, I'm not a fan. In fact, I find few positives in the entire series, let alone any singular entry. Robert Rodriguez's foray into child action films has been a financial success, which is why there are now three additional films (and the thought of Aromascope for any film in a series so crappy up 'til now is quite scary...), but that doesn't mean they're really worth anything but a two hour babysitting job each. Even then, parents, you may get brought up on child cruelty charges, as I'm certain these flicks are in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The first film in the series, the one that started it all, may be the best of the bunch. The premise couldn't be any simpler: 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) 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), his partner Alexander Minion (Tony Shalhoub, 'Monk'), and their army of thumb creatures are trying to impress the evil Mr. Lisp (Robert Patrick), who plans to take over the world subversively. With Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) 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 (same name, same actor, but to say same character as 'Machete' would be a bit much. One invents things, the other kills people...a lot of people.), 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 on Blu-ray to still review?
These domestic reviews mark my second time through the trilogy, and since I know what's coming, and with such lowered expectations, I found the repeat visit to the Cortez household much more painful. The jokes that worked before, how few they were in number, don't work the second time around. The pacing is awful, and the film just drags on and on and on. Plot progression is somewhat incoherent rather than seamless, forced and heavy handed. 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're 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.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Spy Kids' gets its second North American release with the official American release, handled by Lionsgate as one of the "premiere" titles from the Miramax line. Released alongside the rest of the original trilogy, 'Spy Kids' is the only film of the three to be housed on a BD25 disc. The Region A marking has not been tested against my B player as of yet. Before the main menu, a trailer for 'Spy Kids: All the Time in the World' plays, alongside a number of Lionsgate family-aimed features. Gee, I wonder why these titles are hitting Blu-ray now? They could only be more obvious if movie cash were included.
The video for 'Spy Kids' is presented in 1080p in the natural 1.85:1 frame, using the AVC MPEG-4 codec. This is already a step up from the Canadian disc without even getting to the film portion, as that disc was slightly cropped to 1.78:1, and was in 1080i.
Some problems from that disc remain, though some are dramatically improved. Black levels are now solid, and very appreciable, not overly bright, and artifacting is no longer a presence. I really enjoyed the oily slick of Banderas' hair (who wouldn't?!), which wasn't as clear before, and there are some moments where textures are phenomenal, to put it lightly. Colors are still solid, and not always vibrant, and the high definition transfer means some of the cheaper effects, like the miniature use, stand out too much. That's not something to fault the disc for, though. Grain levels seem natural and don't fluctuate one iota.
Sadly, the picture isn't exactly clean, as there's more than a handful of dirt on the picture, though it does clean up as the film rolls on. The herky jerky speed up, slow down found in the Alliance disc is here again, so that issue must be inherent in the film, and it looks awfully amateur. The picture can be shaky at times, skin tones are again somewhat random. The random softness, especially on wide shots, remains. Picture depth is light to non-existent, while edges can sometimes appear a tad enhanced artificially.
All in all, the film still isn't beautiful, by any means, by fault of the somewhat dated and/or inexpensive special effects use as well as some technical issues that may very well have been made a part of the film. This is still a massive step up from the Canadian release, and that's what counts.
The audio for 'Spy Kids' is actually pretty impressive on this domestic release, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that's more action-film-like than children's-film-like, and that's a darn good thing. Rears get plenty of activity, with lots of localized and moving effects spread throughout the film, some of which can be quite impressive, particularly the moments in Floop's Virtual Room. There's a constantly engaged sound field on this mix, full of random ambience, on top of dialogue, soundtrack, and action effects, and prioritization is never a real issue. For its genre, 'Spy Kids' is one of the best sounding tracks on Blu-ray. Sure, I was seriously put off by the first lines uttered by Gugino, as they were amazingly hollow and somewhat distorted, but the track straightened itself out immediately, and the end result is something that's quite fun to listen to.
Released on DVD in 2001, only trailers were included. A DVD re-release came out this April, but I have not been able to find any breakdown as to whether it was the same disc or not. If any information on extras being included becomes apparent, the score for the following two areas may be altered slightly; the total score between the two will not change, though.
The lone extras on the original DVD were the Trailers (SD, 4 min), with both a teaser and a real theatrical trailer. Push the tempo, push the tempo, yeah that's great. They look pretty bad in SD.
I'm no 'Spy Kids' fan. In fact, I find the films insufferable, a waste of the talent in front of and behind the camera. The first film in the series is surely the best, but even it is flawed beyond repair. Kids may love these films, but I doubt even they can stand too many repeat viewings, and adults, there's nothing here for you. The Blu-ray release of 'Spy Kids' is a step up from the Canadian disc, but it's still not pretty, even if it sounds pretty gosh darned good. Fans of the series, I'm sorry for insisting on dumping on what you enjoy, but this one is aimed solely at you.