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Spy Kids (April 2/01)

A lot of people were shocked when Robert Rodriguez announced he was doing a film for children, but not I. No, I thought back to my El Mariachi/Desperado DVD and remembered that there was a short film on there called Bedhead. It's one of his earliest films and stars his brothers and sisters, and follows one kid's attempt to combat a fierce case of bed head. Rodriguez obviously became well-known for kinetic shoot-em-ups, but considering the man has several kids (three or four - can't remember which), it's not surprising he would return to his family-friendly roots.

Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino star as two ex-spies that now spend their days raising their two kids. They're called into action, though, and are quickly kidnapped by a seemingly evil children's personality, played by Alan Cumming. The two kids quickly find themselves in the middle of the fight and must save the day.

Spy Kids is a lot of fun - this was obviously Rodriguez's goal. Sure, there are a few references to family being important (it is, after all, a kid's film), but it is otherwise essentially wall-to-wall eye candy. And considering it cost less than $50 million, the special effects are really something. Most films with double that budget contain half as many effects. I particularly enjoyed the robots made entirely out of thumbs ("they're all thumbs," one character observes after a thumb-man fumbles with an object).

The performances are all top-notch, especially Alan Cumming (surprise, surprise). A consistent scene-stealer (he was literally the best thing about that awful Get Carter remake), Cumming is always a joy to watch. And the two kids are effective, too. They don't fall prey to that trap of acting all cutesy. Banderas is good as usual, as is Tony Shalhoub playing Cumming's minion (conveniently enough named Minion). But the real star here is the special effects.

Those expecting more than silly fun will surely be disappointed. And overall, it works. There's a stretch of about 30 minutes midway through the movie that drags a little bit due to too much exposition and too little action, but on the whole, Spy Kids is a tight, efficient little movie.

out of