"A likeable, if not enitrely satisfactory, reunion with the super spy Cortez family"
Writ. & dir. Robert Rodriguez; feat. Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Dale Dudley, Steve Buscemi (PG)

Spy Kids 2 reunites us with la familia Cortez: big sister Carmen (Vega), little brother Juni (Sabara), and their parents Gregorio (Banderas) and Ingrid (Gugino). This time around we meet their grandparents (Holland Taylor and a woefully-underutilized Ricardo Montalban), as well as a gaggle of über-cool gadgets, including the world's coolest treehouse, a flying wheelchair for Grandpa, and — in a nod to the power of imaginative thinking and rasquache gumption — a multi-purpose elastic band, courtesy of Tío Machete (Danny Trejo).

Carmen and Juni come into competition with fellow spy kids Gary and Gerti Giggles while recovering the Transmooker, a contraption which allows the user to disable all electrical devices. In the process, they arrive on a mysterious island and encounter Romero (Buscemi), a reclusive scientist more misunderstood than mad.

Director (and San Antonio native son) Robert Rodriguez has reined in his characteristic visual flourish which made his previous work (El Mariachi, the first Spy Kids) so dynamic. Thankfully, however, Rodriguez still manages to be humorous without pandering to his target audience with poo jokes.

His sense of the absurd comes through in the creature inhabitants of the island: a gigantic spider-monkey, snake-lizard couplings called slizards, and a pig that flies. All are computer-generated, but animated in a beautifully rendered tribute to old stop-motion Ray Harryhausen films which captivated audiences decades ago.

Without hitting us over the head, the series offer a sly commentary on the importance of cultural ties and the costs of assimilation, as when the Cortez and Giggles children argue about whether or not spies must sacrifice familial ties to be successful. What is most refreshing about the Spy Kids franchise is this mix of tradition, family, fantasy, and imagination, from a Chicano perspective. This is not a story about spies who happen to be Chicanos; it is a story about a family of Chicanos who are also spies. — Alejandro Pérez

"A movie-besotted lark"
Writ. & dir. Chris Ver Weil; feat. Christian Slater, Tim Allen, Portia de Rossi, Richard Dreyfuss, Richard Chevolleau, Billy Connolly, Rupaul (R)

Who Is Cletis Tout? is a movie cleverly constructed out of other movies and a grin. Even before the opening credits, two dimwitted hit men sit in a diner analyzing the hillbilly rape in Deliverance. The final scene simulates the title scene in Singin' in the Rain.

"The film craft is deft use of the flashback," observes Critical Jim (Allen), a freelance assassin who loves nothing as much as his job and old movies. The movie is an elaborate, crafty flashback to explain why Jim is about to off Trevor Finch (Slater) in a seedy hotel room. "Pitch me," says Jim, as if he is a studio producer, and Finch steps up to the plate with a double if not a home run. He recounts his own story of how, after escaping from prison with a diamond thief named Micah (Dreyfuss), he makes the mistake of taking on the false identity of one Cletis Tout, a paparazzo targeted for death by a powerful gangster. He also falls in love with Micah's spunky daughter, Tess (de Rossi).

"This thing's worse than Terms of Endearment," observes Critical Jim, and the viewer might agree. Bloodshed here is only celluloid violence, and the Hollywood stereotypes that populate writer-director Chris Ver Weil's screenplay are merely pretexts for Critical Jim's quips, borrowed freely from classic movie dialogue. The result is a knowing, winking frolic, though Jim, who cannot keep his job separate from movies, is, like his director, just not critical enough. — Steven G. Kellman

"The poor man's Austin Powers"
Dir. Perry Andelin Blake; writ. Dana Carvey, Harris Goldberg; feat. Dana Carvey, Jennifer Esposito, Harold Gould, James Brolin, Edie McClurg, Maria Canals, Mark Devine, Austin Wolff (PG)

Former SNL regular Dana Carvey battled years of personal and legal wrangles concerning a botched surgery to once again become one of the best impressionists in show business. Yet in The Master of Disguise, he settles for aping Mike Myers. Carvey's Disguise characters just aren't funny. Pistachio Disguisey — played by Carvey with an accent so annoyingly lilting you look forward to seeing him change identities — is the last in a long line of Italian masters of disguise who have saved the world by assuming the identities of everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Bo Derek.

Dana Carvey in The Master of Disguise.

Under his cranky grandfather's tutelage, Pistachio must learn the Disguisey way and rescue his parents from the clutches of Devlin Bowman — an evil, gastro-intestinally challenged relic thief played by actor Brent Spiner. Attempting to create a PG-rated, more kid-friendly style of the crude and obnoxious humor popularized by the Austin Powers franchise, Carvey and fellow screenwriter Harris Goldberg show women with over-sized butts, bite Myers' "shush-with-the-hand" bit, use farting as a running joke, and even have Pistachio duke it out with a midget who reeks of "Mini-Me" during the closing credits. The perfectly timed fart jokes that Spiner busts out, oddly enough, are the only laughs that Master consistently delivers, while Pistachio's recreation of a scene from Shrek is proof that this film's got the Myers mojo working. — Albert Lopez

"A sometimes charming mess"
Dir. and writ. Eric Schaeffer; feat. Jeffrey Tambor, Jill Clayburgh, Bill Duke, Michael McKean, Sandy Duncan (R)

Past mid-life, when solitary habits are etched in stone and the hope for a healthy relationship has been abandoned, is it possible to accept a love that knocks at the door? Christopher (Tambor), an exterminator and part-time musician, thinks not. He deliberately truncates his affairs when they start to get comfortable, and has begun to question even his sexuality. On an experimental trip to a gay bar he meets Grace, who is trying to dance away the sadness of having sent her daughter away to college. The two start seeing each other with the understanding that neither is at all interested in love. That determination is predictably short-lived, and both eventually have to decide whether to hang on to each other or let decades-old habits force them apart.

It might not sound like a comedy, but it is. Director Eric Schaeffer comes at the humor in Never Again from many angles — wry and world-weary, pathetically desperate, over-the-top slapstick — and he tries too hard, putting his characters into situations so ridiculous we start to take them less seriously as human beings. It's sometimes hard to even take them seriously on their own terms, even, or at least hard to accept them, when they make the same self-centered missteps we'd expect from characters 30 years younger.

Yet Tambor's charm as Christopher will get many viewers through the rough spots. He and costar Jill Clayburgh are both grounded enough to be convincing (if not always likable) when the story veers away from gags. Each is trying to reconcile the feeling of being too old for romance with the knowledge that things are different than they were for previous generations; 50 isn't as "over the hill" as it once was, and Christopher and Grace may in fact be in a better position to find happiness than 20-somethings. It's only too bad there aren't more (and more subtle) love stories out there for actors of this vintage. — John DeFore

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