Thunderbirds (July 27/04)
After Spy Kids clones like Catch That Kid and the Agent Cody Banks franchise, it'd be reasonable to expect very little out of Thunderbirds. And yeah, the film features a lot of the elements that made Robert Rodriguez's trilogy so successful - ie kids on a dangerous mission, gadgets a-plenty, etc - but director Jonathan Frakes does a nice job of carving out his own niche into this burgeoning mini-genre.
Thunderbirds is based on the campy '60s show that featured puppets instead of people, and the film sticks surprisingly close to the source material. Alan Tracy (Bill Paxton) is a former astronaut who, along with his sons, started up an organization known as International Rescue - which is devoted to combating disasters and generally helping people in need. Tracy's arch-nemesis, The Hood (Ben Kingsley), devises a plot to sabotage International Rescue's good name, and the only person that can stop him is Tracy's youngest son Alan (Brady Corbet).
Thunderbirds is Frakes' first film since helming Clockstoppers a couple of years ago, and it wouldn't be much of a stretch to call this movie a marked improvement. The irony is that both flicks emphasize gadgetry and special effects, but the similarities end there. Where there wasn't a single compelling character in Clockstoppers, Thunderbirds is full of them - from Paxton's patriarch to Anthony Edwards' goofy scientist Brains - and even the trio of kids the story essentially revolves around are fairly interesting.
The story doesn't exactly offer up any great shakes in terms of plot - this is the standard formula of kids forced to save the world - but Frakes infuses the film with a tangible sense of style (if nothing else, that's something the artist formerly known as Commander Riker can always be counted on for). While there are a number of action sequences, they're never overwhelming; their inclusion into the big picture seems to be more thoroughly thought out than one might expect.
As for the performers, nobody's going to be winning an Oscar but it's fairly clear they're all having a good time. Kingsley, in particular, brings an enjoyably over-the-top vibe to The Hood - while Edwards is hilarious as Brains, a stutterer with a speaking style reminiscent of Porky Pig (after being ordered to do something by The Hood, Brains begins to say "fuh-fuh-fuh" but mutters "no way" instead).
Thunderbirds contains enough elements to please fans of the show while also remaining coherent to viewers who've never seen a single episode (or either of the two movies).