The Spy Next Door (2010)


Country: United States
Director: Brian Levant
Starring: Jackie Chan, Amber Valletta, Madeline Carroll, Will Shadley, Alina Foley, Magnús Scheving, Billy Ray Cyrus
Music: David Newman

I blame Arnold Schwarzenegger and the film Kindergarten Cop for all the ‘tough-guys with kids’ films. Since then we’ve had Vin Diesel as The Pacifier, The Rock as The Tooth Fairy, and many, many more – now we have Jackie Chan as The Spy Next Door. The problem though, is that Jackie was never really a tough guy, and many of his films are family friendly, so dumbing down even further seems almost redundant.

The biggest problem with the film is Jackie, himself. Look, I love Jackie’s movies, but he is pushing sixty years old, and for him to be playing this particular role at this stage of his life is ill-advised. The central conceit of the movie, is that Jackie falls in love with his neighbour, Gillian (Amber Valletta) and has to win over her kids. But just the age difference between Jackie, and the love of his life, makes the whole relationship seem rather stilted, and at times, verging on downright creepy! It probably doesn’t help matters either that the opening title sequence, features a montage of clips from Jackie’s previous spy film roles, some dating back to the 1980s.

Having said all that, The Spy Next Door is probably a better film than The Tuxedo or The Medallion, – but that isn’t saying much – and as a family film, it hits all the notes that it should, complete with an over-wrought misty-eyed ending.

Ultimately, if your a fan of Jackie, you can do better than this one. Unless you’ve got kids, I’d give it a miss.

The Spy Next Door (2010)

Double O Kid (1992)

Country: United States
Director: Duncan McLachlan
Starring: Corey Haim, Brigitte Nielson, Wallace Shawn, Nicole Eggert, Basil Hoffman, John Rhys-Davies, Karen Black, Anne Francis, Seth Green
Music: Misha Segal

In the last twenty years, writing for children’s television, films and books has changed quite dramatically – thankfully for the better. In days of yore, only a few select companies (or people) really put in the effort to craft quality entertainment for children. Say what you like about the ‘House of Mouse’, but generally they put out quality material – unlike some other people /companies who seem to believe that the youth market is less demanding than the adult market and therefore it is easier to make a film to please them. A case in point may be the Double O Kid. It is insultingly bad. I don’t know if it found and audience, or made a profit when initially released (IMDb suggests it went straight to video), but today, where quality children’s spy films such as Agent Cody Banks, Spy Kids and even Cats and Dogs, are produced, schlock like this wouldn’t even get a look in.

The film opens with with a sequence that actually doesn’t even make sense within the context of the film. Two henchmen, one of them is incredibly long legged Brigitte Nielson (Red Sonja, herself) – so I guess she’s a henchwoman – are working for a master criminal named Cashpot (Wallace Shawn). Posing as cleaners, the hench-people break into a top secret facility (although it looks like it was filmed at a high school) and crack open the safe. They retrieve and photograph some documentation from the Federal Aviation Administration. As they are about to leave, the alarm goes, and guards rush to investigate. First viewers are served a fat slice of slapstick, where the male henchman (I don’t know the actor’s name), throws a bucket of soapy water onto the floor. The guards slip and slide, and fall over. Then strangely, after this light hearted moment, this hard-ass perp pulls a gun and cold-bloodedly shoots the guard as he flounders on the ground – complete with shuddering body as the bullets connect. For a children’s film it is rather gruesome – but seems even more incongruous when juxtaposed against the slapstick antics of only seconds before.

The film hasn’t even reached the title sequence yet, and I am asking ‘who is this films intended audience?’ Is it young kids who would laugh at seeing adults fall over – or older teens who want a more violent kind of action?

Next up we have a computer animated title sequence with a chess motif. The chess thing comes up later in the film, so I guess it quite okay. I am guessing that the titles were put together by Jay Johnsen who put together all the computer graphics throughout the rest of the film. By today’s standards, the computer animation is rather primitive – but that is to be expected, after all the film was made almost twenty years ago.

Now we finally meet the hero of the film. He is seventeen year old Lance Elliot (Corey Haim). Lance lives in Philadelphia and fantasizes about being a secret agent named ‘Eagle Dawn’. As ‘Eagle Dawn’, Lance provides annoying little nuggets of voice over commentary as he goes about his daily routine. He describes leaving home as ‘escaping from an interrogation centre’ and while being followed in a car by his mother and younger brother, he announces ‘enemy vehicle in pursuit – closing in fast.’ So while Lance is supposed to be the hero of this film, his character is written in such a way that he comes off as a mixture of ‘paranoid fantasist’ and ‘smarmy arrogant dick’.

But at least unlike other ‘fantasist’ juvenile spies, Lance actually does work for the CIA – as part of their Summer Recruitment Campaign – an initiative to get the kids off the street. But Lance hardly lives the exciting and thrill packed world of a spy. Instead he makes coffee for his superiors and runs small errands.

That brings us back to the villain of the piece, Cashpot. Cashpot has a meeting with a computer magnate, Rudolph Von Kessenbaum (John Rhys Davies). Kessenbaum has been hired by a consortium of business men to aid in the suppression of a ‘Green Report’. This report, if adopted by the governments of the world, would put this unknown consortium out of business (I think consortium is just a nice euphemism for ‘oil producers’) The scientist who are putting together this ‘Green Report’ are going to be on a airplane flying over the Bermuda Triangle in a days time, so the Consortium want Kessenbaum to upload a virus to the plane and make it crash. Kessenbaum is outsourcing this part to Cashpot who is a computer virus genius. But to complete his plan, Cashpot needs some information and a special keycard from the Federal Aviation Administration. You may remember my description of the pre-title sequence. I would suggest that sequentially that scene should go here in the movie – perhaps? Maybe it was a flash-forward? Who knows – it doesn’t really make sense!

Meanwhile things are looking a little bit more exciting for Lance. When his direct superior, Trout (Basil Hoffman) forgets to post a parcel to Sam Wynberg at the FAA, he uses Lance as a courier. Flying to Los Angeles, Lance arrives just at the same time that Cashpot’s hench-people are shaking down Wynberg for the FAA Keycard. Wynberg hides the keycard in some folded up banknotes, that he passes to Lance as a tip for delivering the parcel.

The hench-people aren’t dummies (actually they are – but somehow they worked this out), however, and soon realise that Lance has the keycard and the chase begins. Being a fantasist has it advantages though, especially when you are being chased by goons, and Lance manages to muddle his way through various attempts by Cashpot’s inept hench-people as they try to retrieve the keycard and capture Lance. Along the way, Lance forms an alliance with a girl names Melinda (Nicole Eggert), who he meets as he is trying to flee from some roller-blading hockey goons.

I have already spent way too many keystrokes outlining this film. The action sequences are unconvincing and poorly staged. The music sounds like it was recorded on a toy Casio keyboard, and the plot is all over the shop. The biggest insult however is the ending. I have no qualms about spoiling the film, because I hope that you are never forced into a situation where you have to watch it. Earlier I mentioned the ‘chess motif’ in the title sequence. For the climax, Cashpot and Lance duke it out on a computer chess set. That would be okay – but Lance wins the game in two moves. This is crap – if you need a teen fix, watch Agent Cody Banks or If Looks Could Kill instead.

Double O Kid (1992)

Jonny Quest: Jonny's Golden Quest (1992)

Country: United States
Director: Don Lusk, Paul Sommer
Voices: Will Estes, Don Messick, Granville Van Dusen, Jeffrey Tambor, Rob Paulsen, Meredith McCrae, Jo Beth Williams
John Debney

The animated series and character Jonny Quest have been brought to the televison screen on numerous occasions. First was in the mid sixties, where Tim Matheson provided the voice of young Jonny Quest. Matheson keeps his spy credentials in check having recently put in the odd guest appearance on Burn Notice and he has even directed a few episodes too. Jonny Quest was next updated in the 1980s, where a series ran for thirteen episodes. This telemovie, Jonny’s Golden Quest was released in 1992 and then was followed in 1995 by Jonny Quest Versus the Cyberinsects. The last official series was The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest which had George Segal and John De Lancie providing the voice for Dr. Benton Quest.

This movie, despite obviously being aimed at the adolescent market, is actually very good and a lot more mature than you’d expect in a program of this type. Young Jonny has some real issues to deal with and quite a bit of ‘mixed up’ teen angst to work through.

The show opens with Jonny Quest (voiced by Will Estes) doing something that he shouldn’t. He is accessing some top secret information from a computer. He is discovered by ‘Race’ Bannon (voiced by Granville Van Dusen), who pulls a gun on Jonny. People who are not familiar with the series, may think this sounds rather plausible – but let me explain – ‘Race’ Bannon has actually been hired to protect Dr. Benton Quest and his son Jonny. Dr. Quest works for an Itelligence Agency known as I-1. So, the fact that Bannon is trying to kill Jonny means that there is something seriously wrong.

Jonny quickly ‘legs it’ with Bannon hot on his heels. Jonny’s blind attempt to escape leads him into a dead-end alley, and Bannon has him cornered. Bannon aims his gun and fires – and of course, this is all a training exercise. Jonny is fine. Bannon is almost like a second father to Jonny and would never hurt him.

This telemovie is slightly different to the preceding episodes in various Quest series over the years. In this show, it is not an ‘all-boys-club’. Jonny’s mother, Rachel Quest also lives at I-1 headquarters with her husband, Jonny, Bannon, and another young lad named Hadji – who knows a few mystical Eastern magic tricks. He can levitate and move small objects around. These skills come in very handy when there’s trouble.

And as it so happens there is trouble at the moment. Well, not so much trouble, but a mystery that needs investigating. Deep in the Peruvian Forests there have been reports of strange mutations and aberant behaviour by the animals in the region. So the Quest family, along with Hadji, Bannon and their dog Bandit (I didn’t mention him before did I?) head off to Peru. There they will be met by a civilian who will brief them on the situation.

The Quest plane (which I am sure has a name), lands on a runway in the forest. Their cars race out of the back of the plane and head toward their camp. Then from out of nowhere another car rushes out of the forest to intercept them. Bannon takes the lead and moves to block the agressive new-comer, only to find that behind the wheel is a woman named Jade Kenyon. Or more correctly, Jade Kenyon-Bannon. Yep, she just happens to be Bannon’s ex-wife. She is their civilian contact.

She explains that some of the animals in the area have mutated and have become particularly agressive. This is borne out when a two headed crocodile attacks Bannon. While this is going on, two ‘space gliders’ rise out of the water, piolted by some weird mutant lizard men. These mutants swoop in on Dr. Benton Quest (voiced by Don Messick) and Rachel Quest (Meredith McCrae), picking them up and then taking them away.

Bannon and the boys try to pursue the mutant in a 4WD but in the rough overgrown forest terrain they are impossible to follow. However Bannon does manage to fire a tracking dart into one of the ‘space gliders’ so he can follow them later.

The kidnapping and the mutations turn out to be the work of nefarious evil mastermind – and arch enemy of the Quest family – Dr. Zin (Jeffrey Tambor). Zin, who is carrying out his research in a hollowed out volcano (but, of course), is dying, and is searching for a way to prolong his life and make clones of himself. To prove his point, Zin creates a perfect duplicate of himself in front of Dr. Quests and Rachel, who are locked up in a cage above the laboratory.

At that moment, Bannon, Jonny and Hadji arrive on the scene. Their arrival is signified with a series of explosions. Zin sets his mutant henchman to destroy Bannon – but y’know, they’re just henchmen and become fodder for the fight that ensues. Seeing that his plan has failed, Zin flees on one of the ‘space gliders’ and as insurance, he scoops up Rachel as a hostage. Dr. Quest grabs a gun and aims it at Zin, but refuses to take the shot becauseRachel may get hit. Jonny watches as his father refuses to take the shot, and then witnesses as Zin escapes to a secret getaway plane he has hidden higher up in his villain’s lair. Zin forces Rachel into the plane and then lifts off to make his getaway, but at that moment, the volcanic underground lair explodes, and the resulting fireball blows up Zin’s plane, killing both him and Rachel.

Jonny is distraught that his mother is dead, and he blames his father because he didn’t shoot Zin when he had the chance. This drives a huge wedge between father and son – causing quite an large amount of friction between the pair over the duration of this movie.

This, as you may have guessed is just the set-up for this show. So far, there has been no ‘gold’, which you’d expect in a show called ‘Jonny’s Golden Quest’. And there is gold as the story gets moving again, and it’s the old ‘Philospher’s Stone’ story about being able to convert metal into gold. The Quest team’s research leads to Tokyo, then to Paris to examine some documents written by Leonardo Da Vinci (apparently they contain some kind of code – a ‘Da Vinci Code’ as it were!). From Paris their mission takes them to Rome, and the catacombs underneath, before finally leading them to the Australian outback.

You may consider this a spoiler, but if you have read this far, and have noted the salient plot points, such as super master criminal doing clone research, you probably have already guessed that Dr. Zin is not dead and the man behind the synthetic gold scheme.

I must admit, I have never really seen any Jonny Quest before this, and if this is the standard of the stories in the other Quest productions, then I am pretty impressed. As I stated earlier, the story is rather mature. Let’s face it, how many animated kids shows start with killing the heroes mom? It’s a pretty drastic story-telling device, and here it works well. Young Jonny becomes a rebellious youth – while not quite being Marlon Brando in The Wild One, he certainly has his little pig-headed tantrums which make him a far more interesting character than the usual one dimensional, stereotypical heroes that dominate children’s television.

This was a pleasant surprise and highly enjoyable.

Jonny Quest: Jonny's Golden Quest (1992)

Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century

Directors: Robert Brousseau, Paul Quinn, Scott Hemming
Voices: Jason Gray-Stanford, John Payne, Akiko Morison, Richard Newman
Music: Eric Allaman
Based on characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle

Regular readers will have noticed that I tend to write television or film reviews rather than DVD reviews. I prefer to look at the show rather than how it is presented. I like to do this because quite a few of the films I look at are quite hard to come by, and the prints can be diabolical – but as they are the best available, they will have to do. Another reason is that DVD editions vary from country to country. For example: because I am currently looking at Sherlock Holmes, I can tell you that the Australian version of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is a bare-bones affair, whereas the US version is chock full of features. The covers are identical – but hey, those in the US get all the goodies. So I tend to look at the program itself. But sometimes a show comes along and I have to look at the DVD. Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century is one such program.

When I picked up a copy of this disk a few years ago, I didn’t know what I was in for. From the packaging I could tell it was a children’s show. But what I was really interested in was how they could contrive a story where Holmes is sent into the future. That is what I wanted to know. And that’s the thing with this disk, which contains four episodes of the 26 episode series – it doesn’t explain how Holmes ended up in the 22nd Century. Apparently another disk in the series has just been released which may answer my question. But this particular disk never shows how Holmes got to the future or how Dr. Watson got a robotic body.

I guess if the whole series was released and presented in original broadcast order then my questions would be answered. Instead, I will just regurgitate what is written on the packaging:

‘London in the 22nd century is experiencing an unprecedented crime wave orchestrated by a criminal mastermind from the past, Dr. James Moriarty. To combat this, New Scotland Yard brings Sherlock Holmes back to life, and with the help of Beth Lestrade and a robotic Dr. Watson, he will attempt to restore peace.’

Now that concept sounds quite okay to me – maybe not to Holmes purists; but you must remember this is an animated children’s show. You expect some artistic license to be taken. The problem is that the episodes on this DVD do not show a crime wave – nor Holmes being brought back to life – or the construction of a robotic Watson. Well, what’s a fella to do? Here’s a brief overview of the episodes.

The Sign of Four
This episode begins on the moon in a copernican mine. The owners of the mine, Shalto and Morston, are down below when a earthquake rocks the moon (or should that be a moonquake?) A large slab of moonstone breaks free an pins Morston to the ground. But it gets worse. Due to the quake, the mine’s oxygen generator malfunctions and stops working. Shalto puts on a space suit and rushes off to get help. But it seems that Morston is doomed.

Twenty years later, a young lady, Miss Morston pays a visit to Holmes and Watson. She arrives at Baker Street in a flying cab. She does not have time to explain – simply from her appearance, Holmes deduces that she needs his help on the moon. Holmes, Watson and Miss Morston catches the next space shuttle.

The Adventures of the Dancing Men
Elsie and Hilton Cubbert are scientists and have been working on a top secret experiment. Abe Slaney, a revolutionary from the moon tries to steal this formula, but in the process knocks Hilton into a freezer vat. Slaney escapes without the formula, but he plans to try again.

Beth Lestrade from New Scotland Yard is on the case, and calls on Sherlock Holmes to assist. But rather than doing all the work himself, Holmes allows the futuristic equivalent of the Baker Street Irregulars to solve the case – with Holmes overseeing of course.

Silver Blaze
This is easily the weakest of the episode on the disk. It is more akin to an episode of Yogi’s Space Race than a Sherlock Holmes story. The story starts with a time trial for the ‘Asteroid Belt Grand Prix’. The favourite to take out the race is a speeder called Silver Blaze and during the trial, Silver Blaze sets a new course record. After the race the press are clamouring for an interview with Colonel Ross, who is the owner of the speeder, and John Straker, who is the pilot. As they are interviewed, a reporter asks if she can see the Silver Blaze. Ross agrees and takes her back to the hangar only to find that the speeder has been stolen.

Beth Lestrade, who has searched high and low and has no leads, calls in Sherlock Holmes to investigate the crime.

The Gloria Scott
This episode on the DVD is considered a ‘bonus episode’, which is a shame really. It’s the best episode on the disk and the thought that it has just been tacked on at the end is stupefying. But I guess I should be grateful. Twenty five years ago, the Gloria Scott, which is a Prison Transport Shuttle, was taking a group of prisoners to a Lunar Penal Colony. On route the prisoners escape. One prisoner though, John Armitage, has all along claimed his innocence, and does not want to escape. It will jeopardise his appeal, but he has no choice really. The ring leader of the escape plan, Hudson, destroys the controls to the Gloria Scott and then, with the other prisoners, escape in emergency pods. The shuttle is left drifting in space.

Years later, Victor Trevor pays a call on his friend Sherlock Holmes. It appears that Trevor’s father, Edward is being blackmailed. He wants Holmes to investigate.

As far as the animation goes, Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century is pretty slick for its era combining traditional animation with early use of computer animation to create 3-D futuristic landscapes. Computer animation has come so far since this series was made, so it is easy to be critical and suggest that time has not been kind to this series – but I think that would be mean spirited. It doesn’t look too bad.

If this DVD was part of a series of DVDs, I would have no problem in recommending this show to you – beyond the constraints on it being a children’s animated television show, which may not be to everyone’s liking. But as a stand alone DVD it is an extremely frustrating affair. I would only recommend it to those who MUST HAVE each and every single Sherlock Holmes program ever made.

Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century

Where Rodents Dare (1996)

Directed by Greg Reyna & Dave Marshall
Voice actors: Maurice La Marche, Rob Paulsen

Forget Blofeld, Dr Evil or Fu Manchu; when it comes to evil geniuses who plan to take over the world, the is only one true master – he is the Brain. The Brain is a laboratory mouse, who through ghastly experimentation has developed phenomenal intelligence. By day, he is trapped in his cage in the laboratory, with Pinky, a dimwitted rodent. Each night, this pair escape from their cage and attempt to take over the world.

Where Rodents Dare is one of the episodes from the Pinky And The Brain television series, and as no doubt you’ve guessed from the title, it is a pastiche of Where Eagles Dare.

The episode opens with the janitor coming to the ACME laboratories to clean the rodent’s cages. But waiting for him are Pinky and the Brain. Pinky is holding a test tube over his shoulder like a bazooka. Inside the test tube, Brain has concocted a freezing agent that he calls his ‘catalytic immobiliser’. It freezes it’s victim for 24 hours. As the janitor opens the door to the cage, Pinky ‘fires’ the test tube. The janitor is frozen and Pinky and the Brain escape.

Brain’s plan for world domination on this evening involves a summit of World Leaders who are meeting in a chalet, called Schloss Dunkershein, on top of the Swiss Alps. Brain reasons that whoever controls the summit, controls the world. And he intends to do this, by freezing the world leaders, just as he did the janitor.

By hiding in a parcel being posted to Switzerland, Pinky and the Brain move via delivery van and aeroplane to Switzerland. Like Where Eagles Dare, the soundtrack features military style snare drums on the soundtrack. But in Where Rodents Dare it is revealed that Pinky is in fact playing the drums as the action unfurls, much to the chagrin of Brain – ’…please stop that or I shall be forced to hurt you.’

Pinky and the Brain parachute from the mail delivery plane, down to their target. Upon landing, they slide off the ice covered roof, into a drain pipe, and ultimately off the mountain. Now Pinky and the Brain have to make their way back up to the summit again. This time they ride up on cable car. This doesn’t go to plan either, and our rodent heroes end up caught up in the cogs and thrown down to the bottom of the mountain again.

Next, they decide to scale the mountain in the style of The Guns Of Navarone. This isn’t without incident, but eventually the furry white duo make it to the top, and into the meeting room with the world leaders. In the room are the Queen, Mikail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton, Yassah Arrafat and a myriad of other world leaders. Pinky attempts to fire Brain’s ‘catalytic immobiliser’, but as always, the plan goes wrong.

Of course, Pinky And The Brain is aimed at kids, but like the best animated shows, there is another layer that adults can enjoy. The whole Pinky And The Brain series is littered with film injokes (especially from the Warner Bros. back catalogue). While the injokes will go over most children’s heads, any adult with evern a cursory knowledge of film history will get the references to Where Eagles Dare or The Guns Of Navarone, or in other episodes Godzilla or even Da Boot. But regardless, if you are a film boffin or not, there is a lot to enjoy in Pinky And The Brain.

Where Rodents Dare (1996)

Condorman (1981)

Directed by Charles Jarrott
Michael Crawford, Barbara Carrera, Oliver Reed, James Hampton, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Dana Elcar, Robert Arden
Music by Henry Mancini

Condorman is a Disney children’s spy film. It does have one or two good set pieces, but on the whole it’s a pretty sloppy affair.

The film opens in Paris. Woody Wilkins, a comic book writer is testing a plot point in his latest Condorman comic. In the comic Condorman leaps off the Eiffel tower with a set of wings that expand out from a pack mounted on his back. So naturally, that’s where we find Woody – dressed as Condorman and leaping off the tower. Down below, taking photos is Woody’s friend Harry Oslo (James Hampton).

Woody or Condorman if you prefer, is played by Michael Crawford, who these days is better known for being The Phantom Of The Opera in London. But back then, he was better known as the accident prone Frank Spencer from the television show Some Mothers Do Ave Em. In an attempt to bury the ghost of Frank Spencer, Crawford adopts a very strange American midwest twang when speaking. It is very disconcerting.

But back to the action. Woody’s attempt at flying doesn’t go too well and he ends up in the river. Harry tries to console him. Who is Harry? Harry is an old friend who happens to work for the CIA – but before you go thinking that this guys is a daring secret agent – I hate to tell you that he is just a file clerk. But all that is about to change.

Harry’s boss, Russ (Dana Elcar) takes off for a couple of days to Geneva. During his absence, Harry is promoted to looking after the French section. One of his tasks is to take care of an document exchange with the Russians. Both parties have agreed that the exchange should be performed by civilians. It is Harry’s job to pick the civilian.

And as you would have guessed, Harry turns to Woody. Woody, who has a tendency to live in a fantasy world, jumps at the opportunity. He turns up at the train station wearing an old fashioned trenchcoat and hat. Harry chains a briefcase to Woody’s wrist and sends him on his way to Istanbul.

Waiting at the other end in a restaurant is Natalia (Barbara Carrera). The document exchange is supposed to be a civilian opperation, but Woody tells Natalia a few little white lies. He says that he is a top flight covert agent and he completes missions like this all the time. If Natalia was a civilian too, like she was supposed to be, then Woody’s lies would have been harmless. Instead she is a Russian agent, and she is being watched by some other unsavoury characters. A Chinese agent sets a pack of goons on Natalia, and Woody steps in to help. With dumb luck and clumsiness he takes care of the aggressors. Now everybody believes that Woody truly is a secret agent and all sorts of spy hijinks follows.

The most interesting thing about this film is the cast. Crawford I’ve mentioned. Secondly we have Barbara Carrera as Natalia. It’s very strange to see her in a children’s film. At her best she is a femme fatale bombshell. But this film appears to be made just before she broke through with roles in I, The Jury, Never Say Never Again, and Lone Wolf McQuade.

The other actor of note is Oliver Reed. He plays the role of the evil Russian spymaster, Krokov. I am very pleased to say that he doesn’t overact or do any unnecessary mugging, which so many actors seem to do when they are playing a villain in a kid’s film. Reed plays it cold and scary.

Condorman is a bit of a throwback to when children’s films were lowest common denominator film-making. These day’s children’s films are much more sophisticated. This film falls into the trap of going for the cheap laugh, rather than allowing and trusting the audience to understand and enjoy the story that they are telling. To the film’s credit though, it does feature a fare amount of Cold War style espionage, which is only tarnished by these switches into comedy.

In the end it’s pretty hard to be critical of a film called Condorman, which features a man dressed in a bird suit on the posters and DVD cover. Let’s face it, it is aimed at kids.

Condorman (1981)

Double Agent (1987)

Directed by Mike Vejar
Michael McKean, John Putch, Susan Walden, Christopher Burton, Judith Jones, Lloyd Bochner, Alexa Hamilton
Music by Alf Clausen

Double Agent was a Disney Television movie, and while it is enjoyable in it’s way, it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.

The film starts with confident, cool secret agent Jason Star (Michael McKean) pulling up in his red sports car, outside a dockside warehouse. Looking every bit the secret agent, he is dressed in a white dinner jacket with a bow tie. Inside he has an appointment with one of his contacts, Gerlinde Krueger (Alexa Hamilton). Upon meeting her, Star opines that he has a “nose for trouble and an eye for beauty”. Star and Krueger and there to exchange some top secret overlays (known as the Pinocchio overlays – and feature a cartoon of Disney’s animated character). But Star hasn’t acquired his overlay yet. It will be another two days before the exchange can take place. Krueger disappears into the night. But Star isn’t alone for long. An enemy agent, known as Igor (former wrestler, Big John Stud) is prowling about outside on the roof. Because Star is confident, he doesn’t try to avoid Igor, instead he approaches him and engages in a glib conversation. Igor doesn’t say much and comes at Star with a knife that ‘pops out’ of his glove (a low tech gadget). Igor’s wild swing doesn’t skewer Star, but does puncture a petrol tank. As the two men continue to fight a pool of petrol is gathering at their feet. Igor is forced through a rooftop skylight and falls down into the warehouse below. But somehow he manages to survive. Jason, on the other hand, is standing in a pool of petrol with sparks flying everywhere. The sparks ignite the petrol. Star leaps off the building into the sea as the warehouse explodes in a giant orange ball of flame.

The film then cuts to Jason’s identical twin brother, Warren Starbinder (also McKean). Warren’s life is in stark contrast to his brother’s. He lives a simple domestic life with his wife, Sharon (Susan Walden), and two children, Russell (Christopher Burton) and Meredith (Judith Jones). After the families morning breakfast, Warren heads to work. He works as a veterinarian.

At the end of Warren’s working day, Special Agent Vaughn (Lloyd Bochner) enters the clinic. He tells Warren that his brother is missing, then he takes him to Jason’s apartment. It’s here that he explains that Jason was not in the import / export business but a top flight secret agent. And here’s the bomb shell, they want Warren to replace Jason at the exchange of the Pinocchio overlays. Warren agrees and is soon kitted out in new clothes and behind the wheel of Jason’s red sports car.

Of course, the exchange, which should only take a few minutes, goes horribly wrong. From that moment on, Warren is the fish out of water who’s drawn into this tale of espionage.

For me, the most interesting thing about the movie was the subtle spy references. In fact, they are so subtle, I almost wonder if they are deliberate or just coincidences. At the start, Krueger refers to Star as ‘Jason, love!’, which I take as a nod to James Leasor’s secret agent (portrayed by David Niven in Where the Spies Are). Then there’s Bochner’s character: Special Agent Vaughn, which I’d suggest is a reference to Robert Vaughn from The Man From UNCLE. And there’s a ceramic white cat that sits on one of Jason’s tables in his apartment. Could this be Blofeld’s cat?

Granted, this is a kid’s movie, and it may entertain fourteen year old boys, but there is nothing new in this production. It doesn’t have a large enough budget to engage an audience with large scale action set pieces. So it stands or falls or the light comedy performance by Michael McKean. And McKean is quite okay. I wouldn’t go seeking this film out, but if it happened to be on TV late at night, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. Passable entertainment.

Double Agent (1987)

If Looks Could Kill (1991)

Directed by William Dear
Richard Grieco, Gabrielle Anwar, Linda Hunt, Roger Rees, Robin Bartlett, Roger Daltrey
Music by David Foster

The film opens with a graduation ceremony at Edsel High School. Arriving late and wearing headphones is Michael Corben (Richard Grieco). Corben is a wise-ass, under achieving American teenager, who on his forth attempt at graduating, has still flunked because he did not attend his French classes. To make up the credit, he has to go the France over the Summer break with his strict French teacher, Mrs. Grober (Robin Bartlett), and the French Club.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Europe, Britain’s finest secret agent, Blade (Roger Daltrey), armed with gadgets and bombs, has single handedly blown up the security force surrounding Augustus Steranko’s mansion. Steranko (Roger Rees) is a high flying financier who has plans to takes over the whole European economy. But not if Blade can help it. He crashes through a window to surprise the evil doers inside. But he is no match for the diminutive Ilse Grunt (Linda Hunt). Her necklace turns into a deadly metallic bullwhip.

With Blade dead, the intelligence community needs a new operative to continue his work. Enter Michael Corben. Not Michael Corben teenager, but older sophisticated Michael Corben secret agent. Agent Corben happens to be booked on the same flight to Paris as young wise-ass Corben. But Agent Corben doesn’t make the flight. He runs into Ilse Grunt in a waiting lounge and his life is cut short.

At the other end, young Michael is mistaken for the secret agent and that’s where the fun begins. Along the way Corben teams up with Mariska (Gabrielle Anwar), and together they have to stop Steranko.

Rees plays the villainous Steranko with a perfect mixture of menace and camp, befitting a film aimed at a teen market. As all evil masterminds do, Steranko has multiple odious minions to do his dirty work. I have already mentioned Linda Hunt as Grunt. She seems to be having a great time is such a far fetched and evil role. The next henchman of note is Zigesfeld, played by Tom Rack. His unique feature is the old tried and tested metallic hands. As you should know by now, dear reader, that if you use your metallic hands for evil, they will be your downfall. Steranko’s third evil minion is a henchwoman named Areola Canasta (but, of course) played by Carole Davis. She seduces Michael and plans to kill him during a session of PG rated naughtiness. Her preferred weapon is a live scorpion.

As you can see, in this review, I have concentrated more on describing the characters involved rather than the plot, quite simply because from the character reviews you get a clear view of what the movie is about. Sure, there is a plot, but it’s not important. What is important are the colourful and deliberately clichéd characters. Normally I’d be very scathing of the clichés, but these are done with such obvious love and affection for the genre, it is hard to be critical. And to be honest, many of the set pieces, (stalwarts of the genre – car chase with gadget laden car, confrontation between hero and villain at a casino, and villains lair exploding in a ball of flame at the climax) are pulled off with more competancy than many of the better known films of it’s type. What more could you ask?

If Looks Could Kill is a very enjoyable teen variation on the spy movie and is every bit as entertaining as it’s modern counterparts, Spy Kids and Agent Cody Banks.

If Looks Could Kill (1991)

Stormbreaker (2006)

Directed by Geoffrey Sax
Alex Pettyfer, Sarah Bolger, Bill Nighy, Sophie Okonedo, Mickey Rourke, Alicia Silverstone, Damian Lewis, Missi Pyle, Andy Serkis, Ewan McGregor, Robbie Coltrane

The Alex Rider series of books (6 so far) by Anthony Horowitz have been enormously successful, so it was inevitable that they would be turned into a film series. Well, at least an attempt would be made to make them into a film series. With DVD rentals and sales, these days it is harder to discern what constitutes a hit film, but from word of mouth and critical reaction, it would appear that Stormbreaker was a flop. Which is a shame because the film itself is extremely entertaining, and to my mind, only marred by some awful music choices.

Without giving away too many plot points, the thrust of the story is this. Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer) lives with his uncle Ian (Ewan McGregor) and his American live-in housekeeper, Jack (Alicia Silverstone). Ian Rider is often away on business and Jack takes care of Alex. What kind of business does Ian Rider do? Most of the world thinks he’s in banking, but really he is an M.I.6 operative. As the film begins, he is a tad careless performing one of his missions. His mistake costs him his life.

The official line about Ian Rider’s death was that he was in a car accident and he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Alex has trouble believing this and does a bit of snooping around. This brings him into contact with Ian Rider’s superiors, Alan Blunt (Bill Nighy), and Mrs Jones (Sophie Okonedo). Finally Alex learns the truth, but he doesn’t like it. And things don’t get any better when he finds out that M.I.6 wants him for a mission. Alex is reluctant to undertake the mission, but Blunt threatens to deport Jack, because her visa has expired. Alex agrees. And that’s how 14-year-old Alex Rider becomes a secret agent.

Along the way Alex comes across various nefarious characters. Mickey Rourke plays the sinister billionaire Darius Sayle, a man who outwardly seems generous and community minded, but on the inside is bitter and twisted and seeks revenge for wrongs of the past. Andy Serkis plays Mr Grin, an evil henchman with facial scarring from a knife throwing circus trick that went horribly wrong. And last, but not least is Nadia Vole, played by (Missi Pyle). Vole is Sayle’s personal assistant, who seems to have an aversion to fish.

From some quarters, the critical reaction to the casting of Alex Pettyfer has been harsh, but I think he carries the film well, and he is only going to grow as an actor. There too have been some unfair critical comparisons with the Harry Potter series and in particular Daniel Radcliffe. These are unfair because Radcliffe has had four films to grow into his role – if you go back and watch The Philosopher’s Stone you can see how much he has improved. But Pettyfer hasn’t been given a chance. I think he does a good job conveying the range of emotions as required by the story, and he stands out in the physical action sequences. His martial arts scene in the scrap metal yard is well choreographed and he performs the scene with a large amount of believability. He sells it.

Most of the publicity that Stormbreaker did generate was for the amount of big name celebrity cameos. Ewan McGregor was featured heavily in the advertising campaigns but his character dies before the main credits. Stephen Fry has a brief but memorable turn as Smithers, the gadget master. And Robbie Coltrane turns up at the end as the Prime Minister of Britain.

Alex Rider has a lot of competition is the child spy stakes, with Cody Banks and the Spy Kids movies proving to be very popular. But I think that Alex Rider has got what it takes to stand on his own and become an engaging cinematic character. And here’s hoping that DVD rentals and sales help raise the profile of this film and a sequel gets made, because I for one am looking forward to Alex’s next adventure.

The Alex Rider series of books are:
• Stormbreaker
• Point Blanc
• Skeleton Key
• Eagle Strike
• Scorpia
• Arch Angel
• Snakehead

This review is based on the Roadshow Entertainment Australia DVD

Stormbreaker (2006)