Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D
The Spy Kids franchise returns for its fourth (and hopefully last) instalment. Eager to cash in on a generation growingly characterised by its penchant for ringtones and ADD, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World comes equipped with 3D glasses and supposedly 4D scratch-n-sniff cards that don’t smell like anything other than shampoo and bubblegum. Cue three dozen eight-year olds crying “Mu-um! Mine doesn’t work!” Let this film be a testament to the fact that no matter how much money you throw at a movie, it doesn’t mean it’s going to come up smelling of roses. In fact, if I were to assign this movie a smell, it would be a wet dog’s vomit.
The plot is decent enough, if incredibly convoluted and creaking with plot holes. It’s only passable in that the main concept is something kids can latch onto. The movie opens on a heavily pregnant Jessica Alba, a spy who apparently specialises in kicking ass and taking names. We see her heaving through contractions as she pursues the creatively titled Timekeeper, who has honed the Zach Morris-like ability to freeze time. She defeats the Timekeeper, seizing his time freezing thingy and then drives herself to the hospital where her new husband Wilbur (Community’s Joel McHale) and her step-children await her. Obviously, they have no idea their stepmother is a spy, believing her to be a remarkably distant interior decorator, who suspiciously owns a lot of leather.
Cut to a year later, and Jessica Alba is retired, spending her time changing nappies and being the director’s interpretation of “dowdy”. (She’s wearing jeans) Husband Wilbur is a host on the ironically titled Spy Hunter, a show that has yet to successfully catch a single spy (why would you want to “hunt” a spy? There is some serious McCarthyism in this movie.) The tykes spend their time despising Jessica Alba (perhaps they’ve seen Little Fockers) and vying for the attention of their preoccupied dad, who never has TIME to play with them. Action comes when the Timekeeper is on the loose again, stealing time from the world over. He’s oddly preachy about the whole thing, announcing that we don’t deserve the time we’re given. “If you’re not interested in being a family then you don’t deserve time.” Cue Alba coming out of retirement for One Last Mission, and the whole family springs into caper mode. Oh, and remember the annoying kids in the first three films? They are now annoying twenty-somethings in this one.
McHale makes the best out of his thin hapless dad role, but is sorely wasted on the movie. Sadly, this will be the first most will be seeing of McHale, despite brilliant comedic performances in NBC’s Community. While Alba shines in her action sequences (lord knows she’s had enough practice) her compassionate mother role falls flat. I can’t help but sympathize with her, considering the titular Spy Kids are the most fundamentally unendearing children commited to film. Stepdaughter Rebecca is loathsome, precocious and italicises the step in stepmother at every available opportunity.
Stepson Cecil is nerdy, affable and deaf. This is where the smell-o-vision aspect becomes introduced, as the hearing-aid wearing Cecil remarks “I think being deaf has enhanced my other senses. LIKE SMELL.” Sadly, there’s something fundamentally irritating about this kid too. His job in the movie is to approach things and go “It’s an anagram!” and thus moving us along to the next set pieve. What happened to likeable kids in children’s films? Where are the Kevin McAllisters, the Matilda Wormwoods? We need more Culkins. Someone call Mama Culkin and tell her we’re fresh out of pluck.
A quick overview reveals that this movie does not need to be as tacky as it is. It deals, or at least attempts to deal with genuine kid-concerns, that of a career-obsessed dad and a bumbling stepmum. Even Cecil’s deafness is a touch that, in more capable hands, could have been remarkably effective and saved the bizarre 4D concept that is abandoned halfway through the movie. Rather than hone relationships or choreograph decent action, the film focuses on time puns (“You waste my time and I’ll waste YOU!”) and an entirely charmless talking dog Argonaut (unconvincingly dubbed by Ricky Gervais). Aside from Gervais, we also have Entourage’s Jeremy Piven proving that everyone can be bought.
I was eleven when the first Spy Kids movie came out, and even then I don’t remember enjoying it very much. Something about the entire franchise is wholly unlikeable, routinely relying on special effects, star power and a sickeningly fluorescent set design in order to attract the young audience it continuously patronises. Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World comes ten years after the initial instalment, and exists as a magnified parody of the previous films.