REVIEW: Even 4 Dimensions Can't Redeem Spy Kids: All the Time in the World

Movieline Score: 5

The idea that Machete, Robert Rodriguez's grindhouse tribute, was inspired in part by his Spy Kids trilogy of the early aughts is an appealing one. Danny Trejo played a kid's idea of a bad guy named Machete in the films, then helped carry a genre mutation of the character over into bloody B-movie territory. So it seems fitting that Rodriguez was inspired in turn, on the set of Machete, to reanimate his Spy Kids franchise. It might even bode well. But the germ of the idea -- Machete star and new mom Jessica Alba wrestling with an exploding diaper in full costume -- is little transformed in Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, despite two added dimensions and a brand new cast.

Alba plays Marissa, a secret spy who is nine months pregnant and prepared to give up her work once she gives birth. Marissa is married to a widower named Wilbur (Joel McHale), a television reporter attempting to reinvent himself as a spy-hunter to land a prime time show. Wilbur's two children, twins Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard) and Cecil (Mason Cook), are unimpressed with Marissa, whom Rebecca marks as an especial target for her humiliating pranks. Wedged into this set-up is plenty of talk about time and the ways parents waste it worried about the past or working toward the future as their precious children grow up at lightning speed. "If my show goes well," Wilbur says, "I'll have all the time in the world for my kids."

Imagine the prickly McHale settling on a phrasing for a line like that, or Alba's pretty mouth shouting, "We can't let Tick-Tock escape again!" and you have a fairly decent idea of how Spy Kids 4 goes down. What's meant to be whimsical fun, like the "Aroma-scope" gimmick (on-screen cues are coordinated with a numbered postcard of different scratch 'n sniff patches, all of which smell like Pez but some of which are supposed to smell much worse), feels forced, and the parts of the film that depend on clockwork pacing, like the plot and the action sequences, have the opposite problem. The rhythm is off, a predicament Rodriguez addresses with copious -- nearly constant -- excrement and evacuation humor, and sudden turns into wide-eyed sincerity.

At stake, naturally, is the world -- specifically the passage of time. The helium-voiced, largely disguised Tick-Tock is the minion of the Time Keeper (Jeremy Piven), a clock-headed villain vowing to stop time with his patented Armageddon device. Marissa is called out of retirement to help stop him, and in the process Rebecca and Cecil are endangered and then inducted into the OSS spy unit, where the original spy kids (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) help train them in the art of old-fashioned comic-book battle. Scampering behind is Argonaut, an electric dog voiced by Ricky Gervais who gets most of the film's laughs and coolest visual gags.

A scene of Alba and Vega being smothered by discarded digital clock numbers is pretty cool, and the Armageddon device turns out to be the interior of an enormous, tool-and-dye clock with gears and arms that grind with deadly force. It's a distinctly retro idea of representing time, appealing aesthetically but rather dull for a story in desperate need of a compelling organizing metaphor. The film is being released in both 2- and 3-D, and from what I could tell the 3-D version is still almost 50-50. What use is made of the technology is hardly worth the effort, unless you've always wanted to experience a cascade of cheesies in 3-D.

Vega makes wistful reference to the seven-year shutdown of the government's Spy Kids operation (the last franchise installment was released in 2003) due to budgetary cuts. "They were ahead of their time," she adds. If Rodriguez's mouthpiece is referring to a cultural trend toward the supernatural and/or technological empowerment of cloying kids with absentee parents, I would like to introduce her to a decade called the 1980s. If she's really talking about the Spy Kids films, I'm afraid this new installment refutes that statement more fragrantly than I ever could.


  • ILDC says:

    Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D screening analysis
    Date: August 20, 7:15
    In 2D or 3D?: 2D, but came with already smelly scratch ‘n sniff cards, so "3D"
    Estimation of families in the audience: 10
    Estimation of bored 20somethings in the audience: 1 (me)
    Estimation of laughs from kids: 46 (2 from trailers)
    Estimation of laughs/smiles from adults (including me): 8 (1 unintentional)
    Estimation of "whoas" from kids: 2
    Estimation of facepalms, cringes, etc. from me: 5-10
    Estimation of times (ugh) I was genuinely moved somehow: 3
    Estimation of scratch ‘n sniff patches that somewhat smelled like what they're supposed to: 3
    Estimation of surprising references to 2012 doomsday: 1
    Estimation of apparent jabs at critics: 1
    Yeah, this needed a flowchart review like The Smurfs. I have no problem with movies that appeal solely to kids as long as adults don't have to watch, like on TV or video. At least I was never bored.

  • ILDC says:

    Forgot "Estimation of scenes that probably would have been more effective if not shown in ads: 3".

  • Matt Webb Mitovich | Editor-at-Large says:

    "on-screen cues are coordinated with a numbered postcard of different scratch ‘n sniff patches, all of which smell like Pez "
    BINGO, you hit the nail on the head. I couldn't quite place that generically sweet smell to the whole card. I spent probably 5 minutes aside my kids trying to figure out what combo of rubbing, scratching and scraping with the edge of a car key would release the smells, to almost no avail. (Eventually #5 smelled like bubblegum.)
    The Aroma-Vision is a complete bust, odd when it's so easy to place a scratch-n-sniff dot on a Sunday circular or what not.
    Oh, and don't get me started on the byzantine non-plot.
    Goodbye, $39 +snacks.

  • Gahhhh, yes, the flowchart review! Spy Kids 5, for sure!

  • ILDC says:

    A TV series or DTV movie?

  • ILDC says:

    Judging by the lack of smells for things like the "diaper bomb", they're saving an improved Aroma-Vision for the DVD/Blu-ray.

  • jim says:

    The sniff card didnt work at all, you are right