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Spy-kid adventure can't find its target

October 13, 2006|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

The first film adaptation based on Anthony Horowitz's series of young-adult adventure novels, "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker" feels like a contrived attempt to jump-start a franchise along the lines of "Spy Kids" or the "Harry Potter" series.

Recognizable British actors appear in every conceivably sized role, and the film ends with a decidedly "on to the next adventure" moment. In something of a forced marriage between James Bond and Encyclopedia Brown, when young Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer) discovers that his recently deceased uncle and guardian (Ewan McGregor in a very brief cameo) was in fact a super-spy killed in the line of duty, the boy is quickly drafted to finish the case.

Director Geoffrey Sax, a veteran of British television in his second feature outing, does a capable job of keeping things moving, but neither he nor Horowitz's screenplay hits the suitable Saturday-serial/comic-book tone. The film is forever trying to balance between being for younger teenagers and keeping their parents occupied as well, and never quite gets it right.

The cast really is remarkable, with actors as diverse as Stephen Fry, Damian Lewis, Sophie Okonedo, Bill Nighy, Alicia Silverstone, Andy Serkis and Missi Pyle. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves; it's just that the filmmaking and storytelling lack spark, so this amazing roster of talent seems as if it's been left at the gate.

There is a palpable spike in energy whenever Mickey Rourke slithers on screen as a villainous computer entrepreneur sporting white cowboy boots, toting a cane and wearing different sunglasses for indoors and out. He's the film's requisite criminal mastermind, and it's an amusing diversion to imagine -- a viewer has to remain occupied, after all -- a world in which Mickey Rourke and Bill Gates might have the same job.


'Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker'

MPAA rating: PG for sequences of action violence and some peril

A Weinstein Co./MGM release. Director Geoffrey Sax. Screenplay Anthony Horowitz, based on his novel. Producers Marc Samuelson, Peter Samuelson, Steve Christian. Director of photography Chris Seager. Editor Andrew MacRitchie. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

In general release.

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