With all the talk this summer of reboots and prequels, is there a term for a tenuously related but basically the same sequel?
In "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D," Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook play a new sister-and-brother pair of young-uns initiated into a world of high-tech gadgetry and crime-fighting when they find out their stepmother (Jessica Alba) is a former secret agent.
Not even her husband (Joel McHale) knows about her former occupation until she is redrafted into service to capture a pair of mad scientists known as the Timekeeper and Tick Tock (both played by Jeremy Piven), who are literally stealing time.
Robert Rodriguez's previous "Spy Kids" film, from way back in 2003, was instrumental in kicking off the recent resurgence in 3-D. (So if you're looking for someone to blame…) This time he adds "Aroma-Scope," a fourth dimension of smell. Yes, audience members are given scratch-and-sniff cards while entering the theater (along with 3-D glasses for theaters so equipped), and as the film plays, numbers periodically appear on screen signaling a smell.
Rodriguez never gets too adventurous with the concept — food and bodily functions are the staples — and even seems to eventually give up on it, throwing three of the eight smells into a single moment.
There is something playful about seeing Alba in spy-style cat suit — reminiscent of her early role on TV's "Dark Angel" — with first a baby bump and later an infant strapped to her chest. The film is also peppered with wise reminders for kids to be accepting of step-parents and for parents to set aside work to make time for their kids.
Rodriguez apparently believes the formula for kid-friendly filmmaking is to toss in some whizzing, clanging something or other whenever the storytelling seems to sag in order to amuse the kids and wake a dozing parent. Even genuine juveniles may eventually tire of his reliance on poop and goop as a source of humor.
While Rodriguez has achieved a level of self-sufficient self-sustainability with his Austin, Texas, production facilities that might make him the envy of many other onetime Sundance whiz-kids, his level of freedom has often revealed the limits of his imagination.
This fourth "Spy Kids" picture isn't so much bad as it is just boring, lacking the buzz and brio of even some of the earlier entries in the series. It feels like someone is now just marking time.
'Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D'
MPAA rating: PG for mild action and rude humor
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Playing: In general releaseCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times