spy kids 4

Boasting a new cast and a new theatrical gimmick, if little else, "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D" is a cheap-looking, vaguely depressing echo of Robert Rodriguez's well-loved kidpic trilogy, assembled with minimal imagination or effort.

Boasting a new cast and a new theatrical gimmick, if little else, “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D” is a cheap-looking, vaguely depressing echo of Robert Rodriguez’s well-loved kidpic trilogy, assembled with minimal imagination or effort. The “Spy Kids” name should still carry decent B.O. drawing power, and very young viewers should be reasonably pacified by this briskly paced nonsense, yet it’s hard to reckon why Rodriguez bothered to so half-heartedly revisit a franchise that was respectfully and effectively mothballed eight years ago.

After having helped prove the viability of 3D family films with 2003’s $111 million-grossing “Spy Kids 3D: Game Over,” Rodriguez has now set his sights on a somewhat later exploitation ploy of yore, presenting “All the Time in the World” in Aroma-Scope; screenings come equipped with scratch-and-sniff cards featuring eight scents to be inspired upon onscreen cues (which tend to occur during scenes of either candy-eating or farting). Midnight screening reviewed featured neither the aroma cards nor the 3D, though the deluxe version can be recommended sight unseen: At least then the frequent onscreen interruptions and slo-mo shots of Cheetos falling toward the camera might be interestingly distracting, rather than irritatingly so.

Pic opens promisingly enough, with hugely pregnant new super-spy Marissa (Jessica Alba) giving chase to new supervillain the Time Keeper (Jeremy Piven, who also plays Marissa’s jive-talking boss), despite the onset of labor pains.  After apprehending the chipmunk-voiced hooligan, Marissa is wheeled into the delivery room past her husband Wilbur (Joel McHale) and stepkids Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard) and Cecil (Mason Cook), who all believe her to be nothing more than an unusually busy interior decorator.

Flash forward to a year later, and Marissa is retired from espionage, looking after her flatulent baby as well as the snarky older twosome. Marissa is soon called back into action when the apparently back-at-large Time Keeper conspires to speed up the passing of time in order to hasten the apocalypse. Rebecca and Cecil are soon thereafter initiated into the OSS network, aided by a talking robot dog (voiced by Ricky Gervais on autopilot and animated in the style of “Look Who’s Talking”) and original Spy Kid Carmen Cortez (the now strikingly beautiful Alexa Vega).

The film’s various action setpieces simply come and go, without much in the way of mounting tension or coherent throughlines to connect them, and tend to decrease rapidly in quality and ambition as things progress. Most unwelcomely, more than two of these fight and chase scenes involve poop and vomit used as weaponry, which smacks of desperation in a series that had heretofore steered clear of that. The plentiful bathroom humor aside, Rodriguez can at least be commended for continuing to helm kidpics that won’t trouble his target audience; given the lack of suspense or seriousness, nothing here will be remotely frightening for children, though some parents may object to the employment of “shiitake” as an expletive.

Both new leads acquit themselves just fine for feature-film newcomers, while Alba recites her lines with barely the slightest exertion and Piven struggles mightily with some nearly undeliverable comicbook banter. (The subtitle of the film is spoken at least six times, and the ceaseless time-related puns go from tiresome to admirably over-the-top and back again.) McHale is clearly having the most fun as the brood’s clueless father, though his subplot as a reality TV spy-hunter is pointlessly under-developed.

Visual effects range from passable to pitiful, and the film has the overall look of a direct-to-video quickie.

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D

Production

A Dimension Films release of a Troublemaker Studios production. Produced by Robert Rodriguez, Elizabeth Avellan. Executive producers, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein. Co-producers, Rebecca Rodriguez, George Huang. Directed, written by Robert Rodriguez.

Crew

Camera (color, 3D, Deluxe prints), Jimmy Lindsey, Robert Rodriguez; editor, Dan Zimmerman; music, Rodriguez, Carl Thiel; production designer, Steve Joyner; set decorator, David S. Hack; costume designer, Nina Proctor; sound (Dolby/DTS), Ethan Andrus; special effects coordinator, John McLeod; visual effects, Hybride Technologies, Troublemaker Digital; stunt coordinator, Steve Davison; stereoscopy, Rob Nederhorst; associate producer, Tom Proper; assistant director, Brian Bettwy; casting, J.C. Cantu, Mary Vernieu. Reviewed at AMC Burbank 16, Burbank, Aug. 19, 2011. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Marissa Cortez Wilson - Jessica Alba Wilbur Wilson - Joel McHale Rebecca Wilson - Rowan Blanchard Cecil Wilson - Mason Cook Danger D'Amo/Time Keeper - Jeremy Piven Carmen Cortez - Alexa Vega Juni Cortez - Daryl Sabara Spy Baby - Belle and Genny Solorzano Argonaut - Ricky Gervais
With: Chuck Cureau, Jett Good, Albert Im, Danny Trejo, Jonathan Breck, Wray Crawford.

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