By now, you may well be aware of the song Swagger Jagger, the debut single from X-Factor runner-up, Cher Lloyd. It sounds like Oh My Darling Clementine remixed by the Devil and, like Who Let The Dogs Out, appears to have been written specifically to relieve children under the age of 10 of their pocket money while driving everyone else to distraction.
This brings me to Spy Kids: All The Time In The World In 4D, a film apparently designed to amuse children and irritate parents. At any rate, it’s the first screening I’ve been to where more than one journalist has legged it well before the end credits – approximately five minutes before the conclusion, the person sitting next to me took off his glasses and marched for the door, muttering words that sounded something like, “Forget this. I can’t take any more.”
Essentially a reboot of the series of the massively successful, kiddie-friendly adventures Robert Rodriguez kicked off a decade ago, Spy Kids 4D is based around a new family, a new crop of high-tech gadgets, and a new supervillain to fight.
Jessica Alba plays Marissa, the step mother to a bratty pair of kids and wife of Wilbur, a dolt of a husband who hosts a reality TV show about spy hunting. What Wilbur doesn’t know is that Marissa’s a spy herself, and divides her time between caring for her one-year-old daughter and her mischievous step children, and foiling the plans of a mysterious bad guy called the Timekeeper.
Because this is a film called Spy Kids, Marissa’s two bratty step children are soon dragged into the conflict with the villain, and in the process, learn important life lessons, such as the need for cooperation and the strength of the family unit.
To compensate for the Fisher Price plot, Rodriguez has employed a couple of gimmicks to keep audiences occupied. As you head into the cinema, you’ll be handed a pair of 3D specs – par for the course in a family movie these days – and also an A6 piece of card with the numbers one to eight printed on it.
At key moments in the film, you’re asked to rub a specific number and give it a sniff – the idea, you’re told, is that the scents released will immerse you further in the mind-boggling action on the screen. It’s a gimmick pencil-moustached auteur John Waters played about with in Polyester exactly thirty years ago.
There are two problems with this aspect of the film. First, you’re sitting in a pitch-black cinema, so locating the correct number to scratch on the card, and then offering that particular area to your readily flared nostrils, is surprisingly difficult. Then there’s the second, more fundamental problem: all the squares smell almost exactly alike. I asked someone else about this after I left the screening room, and they confirmed that, yes, all eight squares smelled vaguely like different types of air freshener from a Vauxhall Senator, or maybe a fake perfume from a street vendor in Madrid.
Robert Rodriguez appears to tire of the gimmick even before the audience does. The smells are necessarily confined to quieter, incidental moments of the film – when the film’s brother and sister are eating sweets, or when a baby farts, for example – and the final square has been scratched and sniffed within forty-five minutes of the opening credits.
Anyway, back to the film. To provide a bit of comic relief, Ricky Gervais provides the voice of a cyborg dog, who acts as the bratty kids’ sidekick. Like the scratch-and-sniff cards, the inclusion of Gervais seems like an afterthought, and his voice-over session sounds as though it was conducted over Skype.
The entire film, in fact, feels as though it’s been cobbled together in an afternoon or two. The CG effects are of similar quality to late-90s fabric softener commercials. The 3D is horrible, and suffers from a ghosting effect you may remember from the theatrical presentation of Clash Of The Titans.
Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook are perfectly serviceable, albeit in a typical Hollywood child actor kind of way, as the film’s know-all young heroes. But Jessica Alba and Joel McHale turn in notably somnolent performances as their parents (McHale, in particular, is saddled with a cretinously stupid character to inhabit). Even the normally effusive Jeremy Piven seems bored as Marissa’s boss, Danger D’Amo.
Worst of all is Rodriguez’s script. If you were to drink a shot of gin after each utterance of the word ‘time’, you’d be drunk within the first ten minutes. After half an hour, your jaundiced liver would explode. “I’d love to, but I don’t have time.” “Time isn’t on my side.” “There’s no time like the present.” “I’ve got time on my hands.” Hic.
Spy Kids 4D’s dialogue really is atrociously awful, and acts like a lead weight around the film’s neck. Add to this some extremely weird character choices – such as a villain called Tick Tock who, mystifyingly, speaks with the helium voice of a chipmunk – and you’ve got the movie equivalent of Swagger Jagger. It’s the kind of obnoxious movie that has even seasoned film critics swearing in the aisles and clamouring for the exit.
Seven-year-olds will maybe chortle and gurgle over the various gags involving vomiting, farting, shitting, nose picking, and other perennially amusing bodily functions, and might not notice the appalling effects, poor script and depressing waste of Jeremy Piven.
Parents, meanwhile, will probably sit grumpily in the dark, wishing they’d been handed a decent novel and a torch rather than a scratch-and-sniff card. Or better still, a nice, soothing bottle of gin.