Frequently lame but relatively painless, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, the fourth entry in Robert Rodriguez’s thrifty family series, is so plain-faced and literal-minded in its juvenile pandering that it’s hard to dismiss it as a mere cash-in. Even the use of the 3D format—and the 4D “Aroma-Scope,” which allows the viewer to enjoy various odors in sync with the film—adds to its good-natured earnestness. The film’s longing for innocence (an aesthetic quality later mirrored by the plot) is what stands above the predictable storyline, which embraces silliness, sans stupidity.
This sequel wants to tickle fresh senses, not assault them with inanities, and a Ricky Gervais-voiced robotic dog that acts less as a character than a running gag unto itself—complete with no shortage of second-rate puns, inspective gadgetry, and a third-act, well-deployed fart joke—is indicative of the film’s simple aims. The slick, colorful CGI looks like something out of a carnival funhouse, and there’s a refreshing absence of pop-culture references. Calling off the war on bathroom humor, the film entertains without automatically sucking digits off your IQ—or your kids’.
The film’s subtitle, All the Time in the World, refers to the antagonist, the Timekeeper, who has deemed humanity unworthy of the time it continues to waste, and has thus decided to let time…run out. How exactly this impacts the fate of the world is never really pondered, while the compounding effects of the loss of time only intermittently affect the goings-on of our heroes. In other words, this may not be the best way to interest your children to Stephen Hawking’s lifework.
Best to leave these metaphysical notions of doom to the imaginations of the target audience and enjoy the exaggerated genre know-how, from the tongue-in-cheek production design, such as the henchman with clocks for faces, to the sight of a preggo Jessica Alba in high-octane spy mode. Having retired after giving birth to become a stay-at-home mom, her espionage veteran Marissa Wilson now wants only to satisfy the needs of her stepchildren and husband, the host of a local spy-hunting TV show (no, really). The Timekeeper’s attacks, compounded by Marissa’s possession of a rare stone that can stop him, keep things interesting for this newbie family.
At an innocuous hour and a half, the connect-the-dots simplicity of the plot goes down smoothly, while the oft-recited platitudes about family and time actually hold some water given that most of them are being recited—and learned by—children. As far as babysitting devices go, you could do far worse.