As happens with many creative people, director Robert Rodriguez became very interested in making things for kids when he started having children of his own. Thanks to his blessed events we were blessed with the delightfully zany entertainment of Spy Kids in 2001, about a brother and sister who join their parents in the family business of being international superspies. Rodriguez spruced up his tall tale with lots of colour, pizzazz, and bold, broad strokes of family-friendly intrigue, plus all the outlandish gadgets that befit an inventive mind and technologically inspired spirit like the one that made him such a dynamic filmmaker to begin with. It didn't hurt that he had Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino on board as the spy parents, along with two wonderfully talented child stars (Alexa Vega and Darryl Sabara) as their pint-size secret agent progeny. After two sequels and 10 years, Rodriguez's reinvigorated resurrection of the franchise relies on a new family with oblique ties to the original (only Vega and Sabara return, as full-grown, full-fledged spies) and does a suitably energetic job of making zippy fun for the fourth-grade crowd. Others are certainly welcome to enjoy the excitement, so long as they have a special affinity for fart, poop, and vomit jokes mixed with bold, pop-art production design, kid-approved techno gadgets, and special effects that play up the slapstick nature of the original Spy Kids ethos. Jessica Alba is the spy mum this time, a job she's kept hidden from her TV journalist husband (Joel McHale) and step-kids Rebecca and Cecil Wilson (Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook).
The secret doesn't last long, of course, and the two kids, along with her bubbly one-year-old daughter (who supplies most of the poop and vomit), join in the fight against the malevolent Tick Tock and his mysterious boss Time Keeper. These wacky villains can manipulate time and plan on creating some sort of apocalyptic meltdown based on their uniquely nasty ability. That's about the best description one can give; the plot is extremely convoluted, but it's pretty much superfluous anyway. The point of the show is to watch in delighted glee as the kids play with all the cool toys, the good grownups triumph, and the director makes juvenile poetry using slapdash digital effects and nonstop, gentle potty humour to amuse his core audience of enchanted children. Jeremy Piven has fun playing multiple roles and Ricky Gervais practically steals the movie (for the adults, at least) with his riffing banter giving voice to a robot dog in service of the spying Wilson family. Though it's a far cry from the original wit and offhand originality of his first Spy Kids adventure, this fourth installment is ample proof that Rodriguez is keeping up with what kids want in throwaway entertainment and has the technical skill to make the visuals pop off the screen to fill in any gaps of logic or boredom