There's no two ways about it - Spy Kids does have a fantastic trailer. Snappy, Matrix-parodying action is intercut with druggy looking sets and a sprinkling of cool-looking sprogs and grown-ups. It has to be great, doesn't it? Hmm? Well, do the terrifying words "Avengers" and "The" mean anything to you?
Like the nifty teaser for Jeremiah S Chechik's crucifyingly painful adaptation of that cult '60s TV show, the trailer for Spy Kids is... well, not exactly a con, but certainly an effective sow's-ear-into-silk-purse transformation. Sure, those action sequences are in the film, but they're not jammed up against one another like hyperactive, thrill-breeding sardines. Oh no: they're spread thinly through a drearily predictable plot, jolting the revs up a little every once in a while without ever quite managing to set the film's engine truly roaring.
And are they really pumped up with Matrixy swirls and wooshes? No, those are all tricked together for the trailer. You'll look largely in vain for anything bullet-timey in the film, which relies far more on basic, jittery effects, including grainy flying sequences, polystyrene sets and hokey submersible cars from The Spy Who Loved Me era of CGI prehistory.
Spy Kids seems to be jigsawed together from used bits of half-a-dozen better films. True Lies supplies the family-member-is-secretly-a-spy core plot, the perky yet squeaky clean kids are plucked straight out of Jodie Foster-era Disney (with a hefty nod to Enid Blyton) and the gadgets look like they were fished out of Q's dustbin when the old fella wasn't looking. And if Gene Wilder ever needs a little extra cash, he could make a tidy sum by suing Alan Cumming: the weasily Scottish thesp's turn as Fegan Floop is a copyright-splintering carbon copy of Willy Wonka. Only not as scary.
This wholesale pilfering means that it isn't only the story that's predictable; so too are the characters, dialogue and action sequences. You could include "the jokes" in that list, if there really were any. Writer/director Robert Rodriguez clearly failed to read Chapter One of Making Films For Children Of All Ages. First, he neglects to offer bright, sparky visuals to keep the kids happy, then he forgets to layer in multi-referenced funnies to stop the adults dozing off.
With a cast on autopilot (even the great Tony Shalhoub dozes through a role made for supervillain cackling), Spy Kids might cut it on the Disney Channel's mid-week, mid-morning slot, but it doesn't make the grade as a cinema release. Let's hope that the sequel - in pre-production - has a bit more oomph to it. It couldn't have much less.
Rodriguez and co must have a low opinion of kids (and adults, come to that) if they think they're going to be snakecharmed by this grab-bag of dusty tricks. C'mon Rob! Where are the jokes? Where are the surprises? Where, damn it, are the new ideas?