What does it take to be a top-level 14-year-old spy in the United Kingdom? The futuristic gadgetry of a James Bond? The ingenuity of a Harry Potter? The traffic-stopping beauty of Thomas Mann's young Tadzio in "Death in Venice?"
As played by former Gap model Alex Pettyfer, Alex Rider has all these assets, plus a fluency in several languages, a black belt in karate, an Olympic-level command of most recreational sports and, perhaps most essential, access to an acne cream that burns through steel.
Who knew that the world was clamoring for another spy kid movie at this very moment? If we have to have one, it should be as cheeky and nonsensical as "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker," the latest screen adaptation of a smash young-adult bestseller I had never heard of before.
Alex is just another boring junior Adonis living with his furtive banker uncle (Ewan McGregor) and mildly eccentric American housekeeper (Alicia Silverstone). When his uncle is killed in the line of duty, Alex learns he was really a secret agent. Prepped by his uncle's renaissance knowledge and a few weeks in spy boot camp, Alex is pressed into government service.
The cloak-and-dagger society that Alex enters (by way of a tube-station photo booth) owes much to 1960s TV. Among the cartoon-ish villains in the "Batman" mode is a scheming computer magnate played with lounge-lizard sleaze by Mickey Rourke, the facially deformed Mr. Grin (Andy Serkis) and the viperous Nadja Vole (Missi Pyle). Bill Nighy and Sophie Okonedo spray on the "Get Smart" starch as officious intelligence chiefs.
The general tone of camp, as encouraged by director Geoffrey Sax and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz, eventually runs out of steam. By the second half, one begins to appreciate the low-key contributions of Stephen Fry as an undercover toy-shop clerk and Damian Lewis as a Russian assassin with a killer upside-down shot. Operating at the highest level throughout is the shrewd photography of cameraman Chris Seager.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times