1-1/2 stars (out of 4)
Here's a critical quote you're not likely to see in a movie ad: "If your family loved "Spy Kids," then don't catch "Catch That Kid."
Chances are you'll all be bored by the comparative monotony of this 'tween bank-heist caper, which has none of the creativity or heart of "Spy Kids" but is aiming for the same action audience.
The mistitled "Catch That Kid" (there's little in the way of hot pursuit, but perhaps "Felon Kids" wasn't as catchy) follows 12-year-old Maddy and her two lovesick male friends, Austin and Gus (Corbin Bleu and Max Thieriot), as they plot to steal a quarter-million dollars from the bank so they can get Maddy's dad (Sam Robards) an operation.
It's a juicy premise, but the enactment is so dumbed-down - by turns preposterous and predictable - that you couldn't possibly fault your jaded children for yawning and rolling their eyes.
While the plot occasionally hinges on the craftiness and talents of its trio - Maddy's climbing, Austin's interest in filmmaking and Gus' tinkering with go-karts - there's still too much lucky coincidence, repetitious (and dull) special effects and adult ineptitude. Bumbling (and unfunny) security guards and motion-sensitive cameras? Secret punch codes and a pair of rottweilers? And it just so happens (as so many things in the film do) that Maddy's mom (Jennifer Beals) designed the fledgling security system at the bank - so perhaps she's to blame for its lack of imagination.
But only the writers can be blamed for taking what at first seems to be the film's warmest character, Maddy's dad, and summarily striking him down with a mysterious paralysis that's the result of a fall he took off Mt. Everest years ago. His only chance is a mysterious operation that's available in Denmark. Insurance won't cover this one, and the tan, satanic head of the bank won't give them a loan.
Some character development could have made things more watchable. But in its attempt to offer a strong female role model, the film paints Maddy (Kristen Stewart of "Panic Room") as a robotic alpha girl, at times not unlike the female monster in "Species" in her single-mindedness.
In spite of Stewart's charisma, your daughter will recognize Maddy as the kind of sporty grrrl who intimidates the hell out of her classmates in school; we never see her with any female friends. And judging by the way Maddy blithely manipulates twin pushovers Gus and Austin (as well as two older males), lord help your sons if they ever dare send her a love note. At the same time, Maddy's cold-hearted charm is one of the few piquant things here that could have been a creative departure point. There's also a moment where one of the kids implies that he's abused. But these glimpses at the naughty inner-workings of the kids' minds are sacrificed in favor of more shots of insectoid security cameras, snapping carabiners or guards mishandling shock batons.
That's a shame, because tension between the children in "Spy Kids" is what brought that gadget show to life. As kids instinctively know, the back-and-forth between friends or siblings can be a lot more complex, and a lot more hazardous, than a bank alarm.
"Catch That Kid"
Directed by Bart Freundlich; screenplay by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas; based on the film "Klatretosen," written by Nikolaj Arcel, Hans Fabian Wullenweber, Erlend Loe; photographed by Julio Macat; edited by Stuart Levy; production designed by Tom Meyer; music by George S. Clinton; produced by Andrew Lazar. A Twentieth Century Fox release; opens Friday, Feb. 6. Running time: 1:31. MPAA rating: PG (language, thematic elements and some rude humor).
Maddy - Kristen Stewart
Austin - Corbin Bleu
Gus - Max Thieriot
Molly - Jennifer Beals
Tom - Sam Robards