October 12, 2006

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Alex Rider: Operation Stormtracker (PG)
Ewan McGregor plays uncle to a junior James Bond in Alex Rider: Operation Stormtracker, a movie that sounds lamer than it is.

It's a movie that's also being treated lamer than it should be the movie's opening was delayed a week and I doubt it will be playing on as many screens as most kid adventures. Which is too bad because, as movies aimed at the 9 to 12-year-old set go, I've certainly seen worse.

Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer) is a young teen living with a seldom seen uncle Ian (McGregor) and a hip nanny named Jack Starbright (Alicia Silverstone). Alex thinks his uncle is a boring businessman but, after his uncle's death, he learns that Ian was actually a sports-car-driving, gadget- using, bad-guy-fighting member of MI6, the British secret service. This secret identity shouldn't come as a complete surprise to Alex, Ian's handlers tell him; after all, Ian did teach Alex how to speak an assortment of languages, fight off multiple henchmen, shoot straight and several other things not standard for your average upper-class British school boy. Why is MI6 pulling back the curtain for Alex? Why, because they need his help.

Ian was investigating a computer company run by American Darrius Sayle (Mickey Rourke). This company is planning to give every kid in the U.K. a special hand-held computer that the company says will help them with their homework. But the Brits aren't so sure that this gift as benign as it appears. They get Alex to pose as a computer geek and infiltrate the computer company to find out what's really up.

Alex Rider turns out to be a not-too-bad secret agent, even though Operation Stormtracker is not nearly as charming, visually engaging or all-members-of-the-family-friendly as Spy Kids. But I liked it better than the Frankie Muniz spy movie Agent Cody Banks and far better than the recent awful kids' adventure movie Zoom. Pettyfer is an appealing enough lead character and supporting roles filled by Silverstone, Bill Nighy and Sophie Okonedo offer occasional chuckles. The movie keeps both the danger and the mystery light enough that the target audience will probably enjoy it though not think about it much past the final scene. C+

Amy Diaz