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JONATHAN ROSS AT THE MOVIES: KIDS LIVE OUT A DREAM; SPY KIDS 2: THE ISLAND OF LOST DREAMS Cert: U, 100 mins.

Byline: JONATHAN ROSS

IT'S not often that you get a film starring kids, that's aimed mainly at kids and is written, directed and edited by a big kid. OK, so Robert Rodriguez, the man responsible for this cracking comedy, is actually a grown man with children of his own.

But anyone who saw the original Spy Kids will know that this is a bloke who takes his job of entertaining children (and their parents) very seriously indeed. And Rodriguez has not forgotten what it feels like to be a kid.

Hence the fact that this film is chock-full of enough gadgets to rival any Bond movie and that the child stars, Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara, take up much more screen time than any of their adult co-stars, including the rather famous Antonio Banderas.

Rodriguez seems to have simply thought of all the things he wanted to do and all the gadgets he wished existed when he was a young boy and built a story around them.

The premise for this sequel to the very successful first Spy Kids is simplicity itself. Since last time we met them, Carmen (Vega) and younger brother Juni (Sabara) have grown only an inch or so, but as super-spies for the government they're a whole lot more confident.

Even though they're two of the most celebrated spy kids around, they want to be trusted with bigger and more dangerous assignments. But lately they have had to contend with some serious competition from fellow pint-sized spies Gary Giggles (Matt O'Leary) and Gerti Giggles (Emily Osment).

When a trip to check out a secret island occupied by a mad scientist (Steve Buscemi) comes up, both set of siblings jump at the chance of going. Especially if it means saving the world from a mysterious baddie, who wants to get his hand on the scientist's Transmooker Device, which could destroy civilisation as we know it.

But for the assignment to be a success they all have to learn to work together, while doing their best to keep Carmen and Juni's worried parents (Banderas and Carla Gugino) off their backs.

Also put in the fray are Carmen and Juni's grandparents, played by Fantasy Island's Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor. They both have quite meaty roles, considering some of the family background stuff takes second billing to the giggles and gadgets. But kids won't care that style takes precedence over substance and won't be able to resist the cool clothes and terrific toys. A sure-fire hit with youngsters will be the hover shoes that keep the wearer flying high and R.A.L.P.H., a very cute robotic bug that acts as a butler and friend to Juni.

A man of many talents, Mr Rodriguez acted as production designer, director of photography and composer in addition to his other credits. And he seems to have done a lot of the effects for not a lot of money. While most are excellent, some fall a little flat and are not-so-seamless blue screen jobs. What I like about Rodriguez's films is the fact that not everyone is white, stick-thin, able-bodied and devoid of expression. He fills his palette with every conceivable colour, creed and race and the kids are confident and cheeky but never cruel. What's also refreshing is that Vega and Sabara are both rather normal-looking kids - cute but not sickly-sweet - who have enough brawn, brains and street cred between them to tackle any number of baddies. And on screen they genuinely seem like a brother-and-sister act.

The solid cast includes Bill Paxton, as a theme park owner, and - all coming back for a second dose - Alan Cumming, Tony Shaloub and Cheech Marin.

Action-packed, good-natured and a box-office hit before it was even released, it's one worth seeing with your children. Stay for the very funny end credits and you won't be disappointed.

Clancy's big bang theory

THE SUM OF ALL FEARS

Cert: 12, 124 mins

AN unexploded nuclear warhead lies buried in a Middle Eastern desert for 29 years and is suddenly discovered by an unscrupulous arms dealer. If sold to the wrong people, it could spell the beginning of the Third World War.

Ben Affleck is the new, improved and much younger Jack Ryan in the fourth Tom Clancy novel brought to the screen by producer Mace Neufeld, who was responsible for The Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games and Clear And Present Danger.

He stars as a CIA analyst who is bought in to advise the director of the CIA (Morgan Freeman) when the old Russian president pops his clogs and a new leader Alexander Nemerov (Ciaran Hinds), whom Ryan is an expert on, takes over.

With the addition of an Austrian president who happens to be a sneaky Nazi sympathiser and a lot more plot to take in, especially in the first half of the movie, this is an intricate political thriller. But when the heart-stopping action kicks in, it hits like an unexpected slap in the face.

It is all-American to its core and has some very corny moments, but it does make some comment on the dangers of amoral arms dealing.

Also starring James Cromwell and Liev Schreiber and packed with expensive boys' toys and effects that would make Steven Spielberg blush, this is slickly shot and highly enjoyable stuff.

LANTANA

Cert: 15, 115 mins

ANTHONY LaPaglia stars as a cop who's dirty in the true sense of the word. Supposedly happily married to a lovely wife (Kerry Armstrong) and father to two sons, Leon (LaPaglia) makes a massive mistake when he embarks on an affair with a lonely divorcee.

Meanwhile, a successful psychiatrist (Barbara Hershey) is trying to come to terms with her daughter's murder while keeping her marriage to her distant husband (Geoffrey Rush) alive.

Sensitively shot, this is a deep and involving story about power, vulnerability and trust. The acting is excellent in what is essentially an ensemble piece and the separate story strands eventually bind together to make a worthwhile whole.

CAPTION(S):

CRISIS TIME: Freeman and Affleck confer in The Sum Of All Fears; GIGGLES AND GADGETS: Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara as super-spies Carmen and Juni whizz off on their latest perilous mission to save the world; MADNESS: Steve Buscemi; TRUST: LaPaglia and Armstrong
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 16, 2002
Words:1047
Previous Article:OUCH BABY; ..we're running out of polyester.
Next Article:JONATHAN ROSS AT THE MOVIES: MY CHOICE.


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