Forget about the dizzy-making malarkey of 3-D, which thankfully seems to be a fad on its way back to mothballing, and make way for … Aroma-Scope. This latest twist-up on the kitschy old-movie gimmicks like “Smell-O-Vision” comes courtesy of the delightfully strange imagination of Robert Rodriguez—in kid-flick mode, that is. Entering the theater, we are handed large cards equipped with numbered areas, which we’re instructed to activate by numbers flashing on-screen.
In the end, “Aroma-Vision”—the scents for which generally focus on the attractive-repulsive realm of fruits and farts—is a dispensable lark and the least impressive thing about this fizzy-fun and liberally pun-loaded installment in Rodriguez’s Spy Kids franchise. Once again, Rodriguez empowers kids and women, and bucks male-dominated spy-world stereotypes, in a plot about a presumably normal and boring suburban family (with Jessica Alba as a foxy über-spy in hiding, but not for long), pulled into the vortex of an evil plot to manipulate time. Hence, Rodriguez—an indie auteur who wrote, directed, contributed in the cinematography, music, and editing on his movie—uses the new Spy Kids as an exercise in time-related visual and linguistic puns and gags.
Family cinema is lucky to have someone like Rodriguez—a father of five, not incidentally—in the game. He is trying to inject some intelligence and creativity into the genre, and succeeding. Kids will want to wait a few years before catching Rodriguez’s campy-violent, art-laced adult films, lately including Machete and his satirically grisly portion of the Grindhouse program, Planet Terror. But in Spy Kids mode, Rodriguez continues to help make the world of the children-friendly movie house a happier and more creative place.