What happens when the deadliest Latino secret agent and the swiftest American female spy are sent to off each other? Well, for Gregorio Cortez (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino), they ended up falling in love, getting married, and quitting the world of international intrigue only to embark on their most difficult task ever: raising children! So here we are 9 year later, with the Cortez living a nice, quiet life with little Carmen and littler Juni, who don’t know about their parents’ former life. So it’s a big surprise for them when mom and dad disappear, captured by children’s TV show host Floop (Alan Cumming), who moonlights as an evil genius perfecting an army of robots modelled on the kids of presidents, army officers and spies. So it’s up to Carmen and Juni to save their folks, and the world!

I personally am a big fan of Roberto Rodriguez. I liked the madcap shoot-outs of his 7000$ debut “El Mariachi” and its sequel/remake “Desperado”, and I loved the hell out of the Tarantino written “From Dusk Till Dawn”. Rodriguez also directed “The Misbehavers”, the best episode in “Four Rooms”. It was that short film, in which kids frolicked around in tuxedos, that inspired him to make a grade school James Bond. He went to Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein with it and said that if he got the greenlight, he would direct one of the studio’s projects, which is how he came to direct Kevin Williamson’s umpteenth teen horror script “The Faculty”. And now, after that so-so detour, we can finally see the film Rodriguez got to make in return, “Spy Kids”.

At 36$ million, this is his biggest budgeted movie so far, and it’s got enough of a commercial core to take it right into McDonald’s Happy Meals, but don’t call Rodriguez a sell-out yet. Throughout the film, you can feel that this is a project dear to Rodriguez’ heart, the kind of film he says he’s wanted to make since he was 10 year old! The Mexican filmmaker put his all in it, acting as producer, writer, director, editor and special effects supervisor, and he also worked on the music score with Danny Elfman and Los Lobos. He cast a bunch of people he worked with before, including Robert Patrick (“The Faculty”), “Desperado” veterans Banderas, Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo, as well as a cameo from a certain “From Dusk Till Dawn” vampire slayer. But the stars here are really youngsters Daryl Sabala and Alexa Vega. They have nice interaction together, you totally buy them as constantly bickering siblings. They’re surprisingly not whiney, in fact they’re very likable, even cool! I found it engaging to watch as Sabala evolved from a nervous, scared kid with sweaty hands who gets bullied at school, into a resourceful, brave hero. Vega is good too, as the big sister who both can’t stand and deeply cares for her little bro.

What’s special about “Spy Kids” is that even though it is a family movie, with the occasional slapstick and wholesome lessons, and ten times more wacky FX than the mediocre “Inspector Gadget”, this is not a movie that will bore grown-ups to tears. Even if you have hair in funny places, you can’t help but be taken by how imaginative Rodriguez’ film is. Floop’s show and castle are a demented creation, sort of like Pee Wee Herman on (more) acid, with trippy CGI galore and colourful, deformed sideshow mutants, as well as surreal, cartoonish sets that seem straight out of Willy Wonka. And what about the Thumb-Thumbs, Floop’s “all thumbs” goons? I don’t quite know how to describe them, but they’re something else! All in all, “Spy Kids” is a inventive, dynamic, action packed and often genuinely funny ride. I still prefer my Rodriguez ruthless and bloody, but it’s sweet to see him make a movie that his and others’ kids will love.