A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the fourth installment in the Spy Kids series (the first in 3D) features the same level of action/fantasy violence as the previous versions, with an added dose of toilet humor thanks to the Baby Spy. The language is unremarkable save for a couple of insults ("butt head," etc.) and the famous "shi...take mushrooms" line from the other movies. There's more noticeable product placement here than in the first three films (particularly car companies and Apple computers), as well as many more scatological jokes. Overall, though, the message is positive and family focused: Don't waste time or delay what's important.
What's the story?
Undercover OSS agent Marissa Cortez Wilson (Jessica Alba) is married to TV presenter Wilbur Wilson (Joel McHale) and stepmother to his two kids, Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard) and Cecil (Mason Cook). On the day she has her own baby, Marissa retires from life as a spy. A year later, the last criminal she put away -- time "stealer" Tick Tock -- has escaped from prison with the help of a nefarious villain called the Time Keeper. Together they've figured out how to make time accelerate so quickly that it will literally run out, and the world will end. The only thing that can stop this time Armageddon is a mystical crystal that's housed in a locket that Marissa gave her combative stepdaughter. Eventually the Wilsons end up back at the OSS, where Rebecca and Cecil must use their skills to bring down the time bandits and save their parents.
Is it any good?
This film continues the Spy Kids series' downward spiral and ruins the memory of what was once an exciting family film franchise. Writer-director-producer Robert Rodriguez has gathered an all-star cast of his friends (in addition to the Wilson parents, there's Jeremy Piven as OSS director, Ricky Gervais as the voice of a robotic dog Argonaut, a return cameo by Danny Trejo as Uncle Machete, and Spy Kids veterans Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara as Carmen and Juni Cortez), but their talent is wasted in this ill-thought installment.
Gone is all the passionate banter between Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino; they're replaced here by a bland Alba and McHale, whose dialogue lacks anything resembling chemistry. The kids are cute at first but quickly grow obnoxious, until near the end, when they're sickeningly sweet again. There are so many platitudes that even the villains can't help pushing the movie's commendable but annoyingly overt message that we should stop wasting time and start spending it with the people we love. Even the original spy kids can't add any oomph to this forgettable film; instead, we're left with a gimmicky trifle of a comedy filled with fart jokes and an accompanying "Aroma-Scope" card that's just a reminder of how much this movie stinks.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's message about time management and family unity. How do the characters all make choices that show they've learned the big lesson?
Do you think the movie's violence has less impact because it's cartoonish and no one seems to really get hurt? Is unrealistic violence less disturbing?
How does the movie compare to the other Spy Kids films? Do you think the series should continue?
How is Cecil's hearing depicted? Do his hearing aids affect him negatively or positively?
- In theaters: August 19, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: November 22, 2011
- Cast: Alexa Vega, Jeremy Piven, Jessica Alba, Joel McHale
- Director: Robert Rodriguez
- Studio: Dimension
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Book Characters
- Run time: 89 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild action and rude humor
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.