With Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (2011) heading to theaters this summer, it seemed like a good time to go back to where it all began, in Spy Kids. Oddly, we had already seen the sequels Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002) and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003), but we had never gotten around to review the first film. Thankfully, NetFlix® had it available for instant viewing, so we gave it a shot.
Would the first film in the series give us hints of things to come, or was this one case where the sequels were far better than the original?
Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara, the titular kids of the film, were definitely a bit on the younger side in this first film, and seem rather unprepared for the focus of an entire film. They muddle their way through, but the comedy and adventure almost happens in spite of them, rather than with their help.
The large cast of familiar faces backing them up definitely helps keep the movie entertaining, though. Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino are fun together, even though they never really get to strut their famed spy stuff, and Tony Shalhoub and Alan Cumming are fun as the bad guys of the pic. Teri Hatcher also pops up, in a role that tends more towards slapstick than anything else (having her here also gives the film a slight tongue-in-cheek nod towards Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (TV), intentionally or not). Robert Patrick doesn’t get much time to do much of anything, but Danny Trejo’s role takes on new meaning these days, since we’ve since seen his character get his own, much bloodier flick, in Machete (2010).
The plot is entertaining, as it unveils a secret world of spying to the kids and the viewers at the same time, allowing the viewer to share the wonder of discovery with the kids. True, the kids never really actually get good at this spy shtick, but it’s still fun to watch them stumble their way from one secret cache of gadgets to the next.
The film only really starts to fall apart during the conclusion, as the threats are neutralized a bit too easily, and without any real sort of expectation, leaving the viewer with a bit of that sickly-sweet taste of sugar overdose by the time the film wraps up.
The special effects are actually somewhat disappointing. Since the effects are such a major factor in such a special-effects laden film as this one is, it’s rather surprising they didn’t spend a little more time getting them just right before wrapping up the film. Instead, we get some solid effects (the Carmen/Juni look-alike meetings; the Thumbs) and some not so great effects (some of the travel and fight sequences could have used a bit more work), and unfortunately, that uneven effects wizardry just doesn’t meld together. Rather, the viewer will spend half the film wondering how they could get some things so right, and obviously skimp on others that still need work?
Still, Spy Kids does a good job of setting up the basic storyline for this family, and Robert Rodriguez does a good job of making the slightly uneven effects work for him. Despite the weak ending, then, this first film sets up the series rather well – even if it is easily eclipsed in terms of pure popcorn enjoyment by the first sequel, Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002).