Robert Rodriguez takes the Spy Kids idea for another spin around the block, and crashes on the way.
Spy Kids, if you don’t remember, was about kids stepping up when their James Bond-like parents got waylaid. Here the parents are not spies but superheroes, and after they’ve been captured by evil aliens their progeny band together to free them.
The kids all have superpowers too. Noodles is stretchy, Slo-Mo can move super quickly, A Capella can sing at pitches so high and low that the laws of physics are bent out of shape. Rewind can turn back time. His sister, Fast Forward… you’re ahead of me.
There are more of them, some of them brattier than others, though it’s Rodriguez’s writing that paints them that way not the kids themselves, who are on the whole good at what they do – the acting, I mean, not the super powers. Two names stand out: YaYa Gosselin as Missy, the powerless daughter of a superhero who succeeds by using old fashioned smarts, and Nathan Blair as Wild Card, the cadet superhero who thinks he’s the boss of the outfit but can’t get his skillset in order – he asks for flames and he gets invisibility, sort of thing.
Sashaying with such an exaggerated sway that we know she’s a baddie long before the script tells us is Priyanka Chopra Jonas as the adult superheroes’ handler, Ms Granada. And wearing Donald Trump’s hair and sincerity rictus is Christopher McDonald as the US President, who’s also going to be fingered as a bad guy. His name is Neil Anami. There’s a clue in the name.
Who’s it for? Well there are lots of adult names in it – Boyd Holbrook, Christian Slater, Sun Kang, Pedro Pascal among them – as the parents of the superkids. But it’s undeniably a kids movie for kids. Apart from the mystifying decision to repurpose a David Bowie song as the film’s title (the song gets two airings – one half-hearted, the other toe-curling) and an equally bizarrely targeted gag referencing the Chariots of Fire theme music, there is nothing meaty for the adult mind.
In a screenplay lacking ideas there is only one message, one that applies both to the bickering superheroes trying to work out how to get free, and to their bickering kids trying to work out how to free them – if only we could find a way to work together. This point is made and remade and soon wears out its welcome.
There’s a slapdash feel to the whole thing, which is exemplified by the special effects sequences where the green-screen separation is so apparent that the entire effect is ruined. Is that down to a lack of budget? Time? The covid virus?
Rodriguez is a great conceptualist, a stylish director and a fine writer, on a good day. The feeling with We Can Be Heroes is that he’s simply spread himself too thin, and that in his determination to be a one-man Hollywood he’s over-reached – he’s writer, director, producer and cinematographer here. He’s even got his kids involved. Racer (who also co-produces) and Rhiannon Rodriguez have minor acting roles while Rebel Rodriguez is responsible for the score, which has that Doctor Who insistence on urgency when nothing particularly urgent is happening. All those RR names. Self-regard much?
It’s a scene-setter, a franchise opener, so perhaps some of its weaknesses can be put down to the need to introduce a lot of characters and their back stories. But remember Planet Terror, Rodriguez’s contribution to the Grindhouse double-bill. It blew Tarantino’s Death Proof out of the water. No sign of that fizzing, gleeful approach to film-making here. It’s been a long time since I saw anything this spectacularly dull.
© Steve Morrissey 2021