Friday, August 19, 2011

Robert Rodriguez: Time Waits For No One (Spy Kids: All the Time in the World)

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, Dimension Films, 2011.

Live action children's films have gone to the wayside as generic animation has taken over. Long gone are the days of Candleshoe or Watcher in the Woods. Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer just don't really cut it the same, what with their self-aware cuteness pop culture savvy.

Austin auteur Robert Rodriguez has been keeping the spirit of old-fashioned fun alive with his hectic but heartfelt kid flicks. A true visionary of the modern pulp B-movie, his tenacity at reckless action and horror wrapped in pathos and classic cinema style has resulted in some of the most refreshingly spirited American films of the past twenty years. The Mexico Trilogy ( El Mariachi, Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico), From Dusk Til Dawn, The Faculty, Sin City, Planet Terror and Machete all subsumed the genius of Leone, Siegel, Jack Hill, Romero et al and transfigured his love for these boyhood cinematic idols into his own delirious niche as a genre master.

In between times, he has created colorful, imaginative children's films for his own kids, touched by the drive-in spirit of his darker fare. The original Spy Kids trilogy ingeniously re-envisioned James Bond as a trashy kid's flick. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D and Shorts followed in the same vein. Smart-alecky family fare kissed by his flair for genre breathed new life into a sagging genre.

The original Spy Kids trilogy was joyously silly, filled to the brim with asides to Rodriguez's own boyhood fixations on action-thriller genre films in general and espionage pictures specifically. Families flocked at the chance to be intelligently entertained within the safe confines of genre within genre. The newest Spy Kids seems unnecessary, something no Rodriguez film has ever seemed to me before. With that said, he runs with it, following his own formula which has succeeded in the past. Eye-popping graphics, wacky sight gags and pratfalls and good writing cultivate a cute movie.

Jessica Alba, Jeremy Piven and Joel McHale all get to ham it up, the kids get their time to shine, and we even get to see original spy kids Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara all grown up. A robotic dog voiced by Ricky Gervais nearly steals the show. One of the weaknesses of Rodriguez's family films are the fact that they tend to look like Nickelodeon television shows compared to the complex visual textures of his "adult" works.Yet the cheapness adheres to the pre-adolescent ambience all around.

One of the strengths of Rodriguez's family films are their stimulating preoccupations with moral and physiological questions. However softly woven into his plots, they promise to tickle the thought-processes of parents and even children. Here the theme is time, its elusive nature and intangible essence. Age, family, and death are likewise touched upon.

The opening sequence of a full term Alba clad in black leather fighting bad guys is bizarre and wonderful, leading into the kooky temperament of surrealism which exudes from all of his kid's flicks. Though thin at times, All the Time in the World is far above the substandard of modern American family films. Through their minor executions, one of the most underrated and vital American filmmakers bares his fatherly warmth.

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