Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D Directed by: Robert Rodriguez Cast: Mason Cook, Rowan Blanchard, Jessica Alba, Jeremy Piven, Joel McHale, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Ricky Gervais Running Time: 1 hr 29 mins Rating: PG Release Date: August 19, 2011
PLOT: A step-mom (Alba) and her children (Cook, Blanchard) must stop an evil mastermind named Tick-Tock before time literally runs out.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Parents will find this movie to be a good excuse for family time, and will appreciate that the film tells kids to cherish any time with their parents. Kids will laugh at the toilet humor and maybe even catch an imagination bug from the movie’s ideas. Ricky Gervais’ self-amusing quips might help adults stay focused when things get a bit bumpy.
EXPECTATIONS: This wasn’t screened for critics, which is never a good thing. The “4D” aspect is of course a gag, but I wondered if it would be as functionless as post-production 3D. And considering the movie’s title, I was sure I’d be in for some James Bond references.
Mason Cook and Rowan Blanchard as Cecil and Rebecca: They have good repartee with each other, and are thankfully not really made into decked-out “Spy Kids” until the very end. Their best collective skill might be their green-screen acting, which helps in make Rodriguez’s sets look more believable when they have palpable facial expressions of intimidation and fear. Score: 4
Jessica Alba as Marissa Wilson: The movie might be caught up in the magic of this multi-tasking super spy stepmother, but the audience isn’t. Alba is comparably bland in the movie’s colorful dimension, and gags like when she carries her baby during a “fight sequence” don’t help her presence much. Score: 3
Jeremy Piven as Danger D'Amo: Piven has the most fun of anybody in this movie, playing multiple characters while staying in tune with the juvenile dialogue and flat character development. His charisma makes the movie’s silliness a tad more enjoyable to become complacent with. Score: 6
Rest of Cast: Joel McHale is a dull fit for “goofy dad,” and his self-deprecating moments come off as exhausted. The two kids from the previous Spy Kids films (Vega and Sabara) make an appearance, and are so fairly stiff in the roles that its easy to understand we may not have seen them since their last adventure with Rodriguez. Ricky Gervais’ talking dog is the movie’s funniest attribute, as if he were given free reign in a recording booth to comment on whatever tickled him during the movie. Score: 4
TALKING: Further contributing to its earnest cartoon roots, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World uses every zinger in the pun book related to the word or concept of “time.” The movie is full of playful dialogue like “I tried to strike out on my own but I struck out” and when the boy says “Now you’ve seen my dark side” after beating up goons with the lights off. Score: 6
SIGHTS: Spy Kids’ biggest toy is the green-screen, which Rodriguez uses to inconsistent effect. While some set pieces come to creative life with great effect, others can look too phony (I can only imagine they’d look even worse in 3D). Sometimes it feels like the sets are meant to be simple screens, as opposed to architecturally complicated structures. Rodriguez walks this line between kitsch and creative, leaving us to wonder what his true intention is. Possibly like the movie’s “fight sequences,” the sets are not meant to look real. Score: 6
SOUNDS: Writer/director Robert Rodriguez co-writes his scores, and my guess is that most of the electric guitar-driven material is his doing. Fitting to its genre, the film uses typical spy music, without any memorable motifs. Spunky sound design is used periodically for unsatisfactory shots at a laugh or even a giggle. Score: 4
SMELLS: I was hoping that they’d be offered outside of the specific screening room, but were at the Guest Services (something any moviegoers should be aware of). With an exception of number four’s cinnamon-like scent, my “Aroma-Scope” let me down from taking part in getting a whiff of the movie’s farting babies and blue ranch prank bombs. The smelling moments (of which there are eight) are unevenly spaced, and even come in one instance at three of a time. While the instructions on the card are simple, the delivery certainly isn’t. My “Aroma-Scope” experience just smelled like sweaty film critic and paper. Score: 2
BEST SCENE: While the message eventually becomes a bit heavy-handed, the line “It’s not about how much time you have, it’s what you choose to do with it” was pretty effective, especially for any person who feels like their time with their loved ones is somehow running out.
ENDING: The movie ends on an awkward freeze frame, and Ricky Gervais’ talking dog character burps and then says “cheers.”
QUESTIONS: So why is that Rodriguez puts together good action chase scenes in kids films? What is his fascination with making movies for kids? Does the Sin City director find it amusing? Where’s the chapter in “Rebel Without a Crew” about making movies with fart jokes? Just wondering.
REWATCHABILITY: Not something immediate, though I can imagine it would make for a responsible babysitter for kids when this comes out on DVD/Blu-ray.
Look (and smell) beyond Rodriguez’s indulgence in kids’ toilet humor, and this fourth installment in his live-action cartoon franchise is a fairly enjoyable, if not inspired piece of family entertainment. The film has a strong sense of self-awareness to its silliness, but is earnest in providing mostly harmless family-size portions of adventure and comedy. Punches in action sequences hardly connect, the fart jokes don’t cloud up the movie’s joke palette, and Ricky Gervais is given free reign to crack himself up (and us, in a few occasions) as a talking dog. It’s most disappointing aspect isn’t that the director of Sin City is behind this (surprisingly), but that the Aroma-Scope gimmick is a failure. From the looks of its cinematography, the 3D couldn’t have been that special either.
While it doesn’t reference James Bond hardly as much one might expect from its title, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World offers a few solid lessons to its younger viewers, and dishes them in a fashion that certainly has a surprising spark of creativity. Rodriguez doesn’t just nudge kids towards accepting their parents’ potential coolness. Just as his series is a dedication to encouraging children to using imagination as a primary gadget, this movie focuses on the preciousness of time we have with our loved ones, and how “It’s not how much [time you have], it’s what you choose to do with it.” Rodriguez’s concept of time “running out,” (literally, as hours pass and clocks hurriedly spin in the film in the span of an actual minute) is also clever. Even more simply, this is quite different from any other movie of its type. (It’s more of the inventive of fun that Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer should have been). While the “time” concept might become a bit overdone as the movie reaches to a close, one can imagine its literal representation must implant some idea into is target audience.
As someone says in the movie, “To a kid, anything is possible.” At least Rodriguez, a grown man, is also trying to keep this true for the adults who are continually yearning for a child’s imagination.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10