As talented as Robert Rodriguez is, he sure knows how to turn off his wit when he wants to. To put it simply, Spy Kids 4D stinks… both figuratively and literally. Though small children will get a kick out of scratch-and-sniff farts, 3D puke, and flying dirty diapers, there’s little else to entertain them apart from the loud noises and constant eye candy -- which, to be fair, aren’t nearly as absurd as in the previous films. As close to a connected reboot as one could get, this entry presses the restart button and makes audiences go through the origin paces all over again. Large subplots about the parents don’t help, since both Jessica Alba and Joel McHale are given little to do and no room to elevate the tepid material. That means it’s all up to adolescent newcomers Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook to carry the film -- a lofty goal since it seems only one of them has been made remotely likable. Oh yes, and Ricky Gervais plays a talking robot dog. Maybe the next movie should be “Spy Pets” -- or better yet don’t even make more.
Back once again in supporting roles are the original Spy Kids, Juni and Carmen (once again played by Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara), now real spies, whose younger relatives are brought into the espionage business when their stepmom (Alba) gets pulled out of spy retirement and put on a case to stop the evil supervillain Tick Tock. See, Alba’s family never knew she was a spy, which gets kind of sticky when her husband (McHale) is the host of the local TV show “Spyhunter.” And, just like the rest of the series, when the parents are away, the kids end up saving the world. Along the way, they’re initiated into the once-defunct Spy Kids program and ready to return for more underwhelming sequels.
Part of the franchise’s fun used to be all of the bigger-than-life actors that Rodriguez got to join in on the fun; they hammed it up, throwing schtick at the wall knowing that something would stick -- or that their sheer attempt would be worth it. Mix in boundless imagination carried out with cartoonish computer-generated delight, and you have a lot of the franchise’s charm. Here, Rodriguez calls back none of his old comrades-in-arms (not counting Danny Trejo’s half-second cameo), thus making the film feel flat without the bombastic performances to liven it up. As for Jeremy Piven’s villainous character, his swagger just doesn’t cut it -- even though his emotional beat at the end could be the best thing about his performance.
What’s most interesting is that the movie’s “spend more time with your kids” morality speaks not as much to the tikes in the audience as it does to their parents. Sure, there are more lessons dealt out here and there throughout the film, but it’s a curious point for Rodriguez to hammer home in this setting. Indeed, this ethical statement comes too late, since after experiencing Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, most parents would probably wish they had stuck to a trip to the park instead.
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