Once again, elementary-schoolers suit up to save the world from cartoony villainy in Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D, a Robert Rodriguez caper filled with wacky booger-joke-level antics and, yes, 3D effects.
That 4th D? The extra “D” is smell.
This movie is presented in “Aroma-scope,” which is what it says on the card I got with my 3D glasses that has eight numbered boxes. When you see a “3” on the screen, you scratch the “3” poker-chip-looking thing in the third box from the left and you smell whatever is supposed to be most aromatic on screen at the moment. I think a poopy baby diaper was maybe one of the smells. Mostly, I smelled “scratch and sniff” which, in the same way “grape marker” has a distinct aroma from “grape,” is its own smell. The gimmick worked best in a scene where we were supposed to smell candy — which makes sense when you think that jelly beans, like scratch-and-sniff stuff and grape markers, have their own chemically created smell. Does this really add to the cinematic experience? Eh. But it’s fun and is very much in tune with Rodriguez’s overall style of moviemaking, which presents not just a “film” but a whole big colorful, crazy, zany show.
Marissa (Jessica Alba) may be an ace superspy in her job at the OSS, but at home she’s just the stepmother, an annoyance to I’m guessing 10-year-old-ish Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard) and, to a lesser degree, her twin brother Cecil (Mason Cook). Marissa finishes her last mission just as her contractions are starting, putting away the time-manipulating scoundrel Tick Tock (Jeremy Piven) just as she’s being loaded into an ambulance. That’s my last one, she tells her boss, Danger D’Amo (Piven — nobody says anything about the resemblance), now my family needs me.
A year later, Marissa is a stay-at-home mom with the baby and kids — all part of the five-year plan by dad Wilbur (Joel McHale) to get him on a career path where he will have more time for his family. Except, right now, he has no time — and strangely, less and less of it every day. In fact, it seems that everybody has less time. Then Marissa sees a news report — the Time Keeper has set in motion a dastardly mechanism that is speeding up time and will soon cause it to run out for the whole world. She also sees that Tick Tock is part of the plan. She realizes that a special sapphire she has is just the thing to destroy his plans but she just gave the gem to Rebecca, as an attempt at bonding. She tries to get it back but Rebecca sneaks it back at the last minute, causing Tick Tock and his henchmen to head straight for the kids.
Just like Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) Cortez in the first movie, Rebecca and Cecil learn that Marissa is a spy and have to help fight off the bad guys. They eventually get some spy gear and a little spy knowhow, which they pair with their own kid-skills, such as Rebecca’s love of pranks. Helping them in their attempts to outsmart Tick Tock and the Time Keeper is their robotic dog Argonaut (voice of Ricky Gervais).
Those original spy kids have small roles here and we learn that there are some family connections between Marissa and the Cortez family. For a fourth movie in a series that started in 2001, All the Time in the World is impressively fresh but also true to the spirit of the original movies. It reboots the story in a clever way but it keeps the action all about family — sibling rivalries, the tension between a stepparent and the stepkids, the struggle for families to find time together. For a movie with so many jokes about a baby’s poops and farts, All the Time in the World is remarkably smart. It gets the balance between action, humor, zaniness and sweetness exactly right. The kids are kids — not so precocious, not dumb, not bratty or irritatingly good. They act the way kids act and the adults aren’t goofuses or villains — most of the conflict comes (as in life) from a lack of understanding.
Jessica Alba is surprisingly perfect for this kind of role. She’s done the action thing and is solid and believable as a kick-butt type. But she’s also good at projecting the required amount of hokey momness. Even McHale, a guy not known for earnestness, turns in a good performance — there’s something about the juxtaposition of the very standard sitcom type he plays here (he starts out a little in love with himself because of his TV news show) and the kind of persona he has on The Soup that makes his Wilbur just a bit askew and it works.
Spy Kids: All the Time in the World is a solid kid adventure that is also a fun family movie. See it with all the fixings — the 3D used for maximum silly-3D effect and the silly fun of the “aroma-scope” — and you have a worth-the-ticket-price late summer event. B+
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor. Directed by Robert Rodriguez (who wrote the screenplay), Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D is an hour and 40 minutes long and distributed by the Weinstein Company.