My Aromascope card didn't work.

I was promised eight full-bodied odors, three of which were meant to be various candies. Another one was allegedly bacon. Another one cheese. Two farts were also promised. I forget the others.

But I got none.

I scratched it with my finger. I rubbed it with my thumb. I scraped it with my car keys. I gouged at it. I inhaled deeply. Nothing. Well, okay, not exactly nothing; the entire card smelled like freshly processed toxic chemical ink.

Who's to blame for this? Did the theater I went to (there were no press screenings--and for an exercise in feeling weird, be a grown man buying a solo ticket for a children's film) receive a bad batch of cards? Did nobody professionally nose-test this gimmick before it was shipped to cinema chains?

When the numbers flashed on screen telling me to smell the crispy, frying pork and/or Spy Toddler flatulence, I looked at my sad, ineffectual card and cursed it. I was cheated out of rancid, intentional stinks and, instead, was delivered card stock soaked in dry-cleaning fluid. Then I tore it into little pieces, hoping maybe some scents were trapped inside the paper fibers.

Nope. Still nothing.

Anyway, you know what does work in this unscented film? The 3D. I can't tell you how many ugly, muddy, blurry, useless 3D movies I've seen since Avatar built this bandwagon and I'm fed up with the process. But here it's bright, crisp, clean and pops out at you all over the place. It never stops throwing stuff at your face, which is exactly what a kid audience wants a 3D movie to do.

As for movie itself, it seems like a secondary consideration, maybe even to director Robert Rodriguez. The original spying kids are young adults now, so two newer, more polished and yet less charismatic tweens are set in motion to stop a guy with a big clock for a head from taking all the time in the world for himself. See, if he gets away with it, then Mom (Jessica Alba) and Dad (Joel McHale) won't have any time left to learn how to be better parents for the obnoxious, pampered brats and everybody will be sad. Or something. It's a strange plot trend that keeps rearing its guilty head in kid movies--one clearly conceived by adults with feelings of remorse over how they ignore their own offspring, and poorly used by Imagine That, Old Dogs and Mr. Popper's Penguins--and I've still never heard of any child who's observed these movies and come away from them feeling grateful that their own inattentive parents had finally learned their lesson.

Not that this is a useless film. It's fun enough for kid audiences, and Ricky Gervais, as the voice of the talking robot dog, will keep non-sleeping grown-ups reasonably tuned in. It's just that it comes on the heels of, and suffers by comparison to, Robert Rodriguez's 2009 children's movie Shorts. That one was a blast of manic lunacy and inventive weirdness, full of flying alligators, gigantic booger-monsters and super-intelligent telepathic babies. That film knew how to focus on a kid's sense of the absurd without worrying that mom and dad might need something to latch on to, and its craziness is what kept the adults as entertained as the people they chaperoned.

So yeah, next time, more talking mounds of nasal mucus, please; fewer scoldy sermons for exhausted parents.


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