There were a handful of filmmakers that I was obsessed with as a teenager in the mid ‘90s – Sam Raimi, John Woo, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Kevin Williamson and Robert Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who made “El Mariachi” for $7,000, gave me hope that I too could make a movie that’d launch me to Sundance and beyond. (I didn’t.) He followed this up with the one-two punch of “Desperado” (a $7 million reimagining/sequel of “El Mariachi”) and the Tarantino-scribed “From Dusk Till Dawn.” These two flicks blew my mind when I saw them theatrically at the ages of 13 and 14 respectively. I was young enough that I probably shouldn’t have been seeing these movies and yet they were perfectly suited to my early adolescent sensibilities. A few years later Rodriguez collaborated with Williamson on “The Faculty,” a movie that not only made Josh Hartnett and his self-inflicted haircut seem cool but extolled the virtues of drugs to such an extent that they saved the world.
Rodriguez would soon move away from making movies for man-children and turn to making movies for actual children. I dug “Spy Kids” and “Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams,” detested “Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over” and didn’t bother with “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D,” “Shorts” or “Spy Kids 4-D: All the Time in the World.” This brings us to Rodriguez’s most recent kiddie flick “We Can Be Heroes” (now available on Netflix), which is a pseudo-sequel to “Sharkboy and Lavagirl.”
“We Can Be Heroes” concerns a superhero team called the Heroics comprised of Marcus Moreno (Pedro Pascal), Miracle Guy (Boyd Holbrook), Tech-No (Christian Slater), Blinding Fast (Sung Kang), Ms. Vox (Haley Reinhart), Crimson Legend (J. Quinton Johnson), Red Lightning Fury (Brittany Perry Russell) and the aforementioned Sharkboy and Lavagirl (stuntman JJ Dashnaw replacing Taylor Lautner, Taylor Dooley) as well as their children – Missy Moreno (YaYa Gosselin), Wheels (Andy Walken), Wild Card (Nathan Blair), Slo-Mo (Dylan Henry Lau), A Capella (Lotus Blossom), Rewind (Isaiah Russell-Bailey), Fast Forward (Akira Akbar – pretty much the coolest name ever!) and Guppy (Vivien Blair).
Marcus made a promise to Missy that he’d limit his crime fighting to the Heroics headquarters. He has to break this promise when the team is abducted by an onslaught of purple, tentacled aliens. Missy joins the super-powered progeny in protective custody at headquarters under the watchful eye of Ms. Granada (Priyanka Chopra Jonas, wasted). Missy’s an outlier among the group as she has no discernible abilities and attends public school. It’ll soon be up to these kids to discover and/or use their powers in order to rescue their parents from the aliens’ clutches.
I wanted to like “We Can Be Heroes” better than I did as I’m a fan of Rodriguez’s. The audience for this flick is particularly niche – it’s pretty much made for kids between the ages of 5 and 10. I’m a 39-year-old man who wanted to see actors I dig (namely Pascal, Holbrook, Slater and Kang) strut their stuff, but they’re barely in the thing. I get why these guys would sign up for the project. By all accounts Rodriguez is a cool dude. He works fast and often gets his people home in time for dinner. He might make you one – or many if you’re Benicio del Toro – of those pizzas featured on Jon Favreau’s “The Chef Show.” You’re working in Austin, Texas (one of my favorite American cities), home of Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios.
“We Can Be Heroes” is strictly the domain of kids – so much so that Rodriguez’s son Rebel scored the picture, which is pretty cool. (You may remember Rebel as Tony in “Grindhouse”/“Planet Terror” – “I’m going to eat your brains and gain your knowledge.”) Some of these youngsters are charming (Blair’s Guppy mugs real good, I enjoyed the presentation of Slo-Mo’s powers and Andrew Diaz’s Facemaker elicited a coupla chuckles outta me), but far more of them are complete voids.
When Blossom’s A Capella breaks into an excruciating Kidz Bop-esque rendition of the David Bowie song from which the movie derives its title I went from indifference to indignation and wanted to jam a knitting need inside my ear canal. Cool concepts such as Christopher McDonald AKA Shooter McGavin playing the Donald Trump caricature/condemnation President Neil Anami (which translates to, “I’m an alien,” backwards) are undercut by a twist that serves to further elevate these tykes. I’m all for uplifting children on screen and off – I just prefer the presentation to be packaged better than something that approximates The Asylum aping the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Those of you complaining about “Wonder Woman 1984” best check yourselves. This is undoubtedly the worst Pascal-starring superhero flick to release on Christmas Day.