246) Spy Kids (2001) Dir: Robert Rodriguez Date Released: March 2001 Date Seen: August 11, 2009 Rating: 2.5/5
How can a pet project be this bland? Rodriguez crams in so many creative decisions that only he would think of--while Alan Cumming's Willy Wonka/Michael Jackson baddie works in a citadel that looks like Gaudi's version of Chuck E. Cheese, Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo play super-smart super-spies--but spends the bulk of the film's runtime in doing nothing with them. Once again, he shows off why he's an artisan and not an auteur, focussing more on the sophistication of the film's special effects than in the actual content.* Infrequently some disarmingly funny gags crop up and the film's sense of wonder finally kicks in for a spell once the kids reach Cumming's castle--for my sake, think pure thoughts, sports fans--but never enough for me to really care for the characters or their dopey "Family first" mumbo jumbo.
*That's not necessarily a terrible thing; Rodriguez's earnestness and inability to see the forest for the trees makes him more consistently entertaining as a filmmaker than his partner-in-crime Quentin Tarantino. This comes across best when you compare their entries for Grindhouse, I think, but also works if you were to compare either their bodies of work over time, too.
If we're going to take an inventory, I'll say that I like the polished showmanship of Jackie Brown and Kill Bill but only enjoy the cocky/grating dialogue of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs every other viewing and can't stand the dismal build-up and minimal payoff of Deathproof. As for Rodriguez, I like most of Desperado and El Mariachi and would probably enjoy Once Upon a Time in Mexico more if I were to rewatch it and ditto re: Planet Terror. I haven't seen From Dusk Til Dawn but I strongly dislike Sin City, probably because its the only film where Rodriguez is announcing his candidacy for auteurship by biting off a lot more than he can chew. "Strict adaptation" unfortunately does not necessarily mean "Daring artistic vision."