The calm, collected stranger straightens his bow tie that is worth more than some people's monthly mortgage. He places a $30,000 bet on the Baccarat table and winks at the gorgeous woman with the tinkling, carefree laugh next to him. When his cover is blown, he downs his Manhattan, grabs the girl, hops in his rare sports car and careens around the exotic countryside for a while, until the bad guys end up exploding somewhere. Now replace bow ties with tie-dye T-shirts, gambling with watching cartoons, and the Manhattan with skim milk. Such is the wonder of the Spy Kids franchise.
With this being the fourth movie in the series, audiences have learned by now if this is their kind of flick or not (hint: If you don't have a school-sanctioned nap time, you can save your money). The concept of family is very important to this franchise, followed closely by the suspended disbelief that helps us politely ignore the fact that a lady like Jessica Alba would never marry Joel McHale. It is nice to have some fresh blood in the series though, and on-screen siblings Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook are more than competent in picking up the baton so they can star in director Robert Rodriguez's next 18 Spy Kids movies.
In this movie, Rebecca (Blanchard) and Cecil (Cook) are not crazy about their stepmom Marissa (Alba). It has taken her two years and having a new baby with their dad Wilbur (McHale) to realize that they're not getting along great. Before she can really connect with them, her retirement from the OSS agency as a super spy ends early. She has to go battle with the villain Tick Tock in order to stop him from stealing the world's time away and freezing everyone in…well, in a continued state of watching this movie. So go, Marissa, GO. Make sure that this movie ends after 89 minutes. Anything longer and I was going to need an emergency ice cream.
I imagine Rodriguez as being some sort of mad genius, riding a Segway around set in a dirty lab coat and no pants, mumbling things like, "Audiences will LOVE smelling this one!" as he scribbles something on an old napkin about kids pouring Cap'n Crunch over their heads (yes, it's an actual scene). The story may be predictable, but the effects keep getting cooler and he keeps coming up with fun ways to keep audiences engaged. Here, he presents the film in Smell-O-Vision (a.k.a. Aromascope). So, we not only get to watch Argonaut (voiced by Ricky Gervais) drop butt bombs out of his puppy posterior, we get to smell them too. Well, it's better than watching Sylvester Stallone in the third movie, right?
Aside from an awkward script that keeps forcing the performers to mention the concept of time in really painfully obvious and lazy ways ("We have all the time in the world," etc.), Rodriguez has a good sense of what keeps folks watching. Jessica Alba is so dedicated to her job that she zip-lines while pregnant, Joel McHale gets a sound effect when he arches his eyebrow, and Argonaut poops out an oil slick. Cecil is hearing impaired, but no one ever makes a big deal out of it, until (spoiler alert) Tick Tock captures the kids and forces him to take off his hearing aid. This makes him one of the worst villains of the year so far. Rodriguez didn't reinvent the wheel with Spy Kids 4, but he did give us a baby body-checking a bad guy. Fair trade.