Although director Robert Rodriquez deservedly gained fame for his low budget "El Mariachi" and bigger-budget follow-up "Desperado", nothing since then has really suggested the same level of talent. "From Dusk Till Dawn" has since become a cult hit, but "The Faculty" was forgettable teen horror. "Spy Kids" is easily, in my opinion, his best work - not only that, he seems to have been involved in nearly every aspect of the feature - he's the director, writer, editor, producer and he provided some of the score, worked on the visual effects and probably a host of other duties that he wasn't given official credit for.
"Spy Kids" starts off introducing us to Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez(Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) two former spies (now "consultants") who were from different sides, but fell in love, got married and had two kids. They still are desperately seeking adventure though, and have kept their "spy life" secret from their kids. One day, they're called on a mission when it becomes apparent that Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming), an evil kid's show host, is capturing secret agents and turning them into creatures that star on his show. That's not his only plan though, and once the parents are captured, it's up to Carmen and Juni (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) to save the day. After the secret is revealed by their "Uncle"(Cheech Marin) who isn't really their uncle, they head off in a submarine.
Meanwhile, at the Floop palace, assistant Minion (Tony Shalhoub in an excellent performance) has come up with "spy kids"; robot children that are planned to take over the world, but they need one last component that the two children have in their possession. Along the way, they're met with opposition from the robots as well as other creatures like the "Thumb Thumbs" - warriors that are, literally, all thumbs. At their disposal though, are the latest in spy gadgets - all of these are effective, but none of them - like the rest of the movie - are really violent in nature.
Speaking of the gadgets (and including the spectacular sets), it's really a marvel that the budget of the film is only 35 million. With the sets, stars, effects and more, the film has the look of a picture with a budget 10 to 15 million more. The special effects (again, supervised by the director) are generally very good - some of them look rather cartoonish, but that actually really adds a great deal to the proceedings, which are already cartoonish on their own. "Spy Kids" also has the perfect tone - it never really takes itself too seriously, but at least keeps enough tension involved to keep the audience involved in what's going on.
Performances are also excellent. Although Banderas displays suprisingly strong comedic skills, it's the two children who really steal the show. Very believable as brother and sister (they argue quite well), the two has some incredibly funny moments. What's so entertaining about the film is the screenplay, which is a direct hit between both children and adults, able to provide enough smart humor for the adults and enough gadgets and action for the children to enjoy. The film also has a very nice message of the importance of family and thankfully, it makes this message lightly and intelligently, not shoving it towards the audience.
To make a long story short, "Spy Kids" is simply a ton of fun and it's a film that's not only for children to enjoy.
The film comes to DVD on September 18th, 2001, but not before apparently re-releasing to theaters in August. If you're looking for a fun, entertaining movie for the whole family, "Spy Kids" is worth catching on the big screen.