Catch That Kid is this year’s Agent Cody Banks, which, incidentally, was last year’s Spy Kids. All three films put a new spin on the spy-tech action-adventure genre by replacing the expectedly debonair hero (or heroine) with precocious children too naïve to understand the concept of “the birds and the bees,” let alone the magnitude of an epic adventure. What makes Catch That Kid different from those two films (or any other “mission” yarn with youngsters) is the film’s steady grounding in reality. Despite a fairly ridiculous plot (one that reads like Ocean’s Eleven meets John Q) and some unnecessary goofiness, Catch That Kid is a surprisingly enjoyable family caper.
Truth be told, the film is not about spies at all. One would only assume it was, simply because there seems to have been a family/spy film just about every early spring for the past four years. Catch That Kid is actually another in the line of “heist” capers…only with twelve-year olds. The first in the trio of pre-adolescents is Maddy Philips (Kristen Stewart), a water tower-climbing mountaineer who dreams of one day being as renowned a mountain climber as her father (Sam Robards). But he adamantly forbids her from climbing because of an accident he sustained atop Mount Everest years before.
Somehow, that accident comes back to haunt Mr. Philips when he suddenly becomes paralyzed below the waist (though it is never made clear how an accident could have such dangerous repercussions only years later) To repair him, an experimental, but proven surgical procedure is needed. The problem is that because their insurance will not cover it, the procedure would cost the family $250, 000 that they do not have. So Maddy comes up with a plan to rob the state-of-the-art bank vault whose security is headed by her mother (Jennifer Beals). Unfortunately, Maddy cannot rob the bank alone. So with the help of her friends Gus (Max Thieriot), a go-cart mechanic (must every cinematic mechanic be named Gus?), and Austin (Corbin Bleu), an aspiring filmmaker and computer geek, they plan the heist.
It sounds improbable, and it must have looked like a joke on paper. It sure seemed like one when previews started playing. Catch That Kid is actually based on a 2002 Danish film called Klatretøsen, which won much acclaim (and some notable awards, including a special mention at the Berlin International Film Festival) upon release.
What is so special about this American remake is that neither Director Bart Freundlich nor writers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas ever succumb to making a watered down, Bond-for-tots adventure. The concept and action are kept as realistic as possible throughout. There are no blatant special effects or glitzy visuals, just good solid action filmed to a tee by Julio Macat. One of the trickiest sequences is of Maddy climbing the walls of the cavern-like bank vault (the actual money is located one hundred feet high in a Mission: Impossible-style cylinder) and crossing a bridge of girders as if they were monkey bars in a schoolyard. This is a suspenseful set piece which asserts the idea that the mission could only be successful if masterminded by people small and agile enough to accomplish these acts.
Some of the unnecessary goofiness that I mentioned comes as the result of some frantic over-acting by the two main “villains.” One, a corporate bigwig named Brisbane (Michael Des Barres), and a half-maniacal security guard (James Le Gros) named Ferrell (get it?). Brisbane is the kind of twitty, evil creep who is more of a fill-in-the-blank character, while the security guard is the wannabee war vet type who thinks he knows how to command and conquer while he wouldn’t know his elbow from a half-eaten tomato. These two are most likely present to assert how stupid the adults are and thus make the robbery a little more believable. But they are too stupid, and too cartoonish to bear.
I liked the film because it is about our youth stepping up in a time of crisis. Not because they have to, but because they choose to, and know it will be right for those who matter. It is about morality, yet it sends the positive and wonderfully unorthodox message that sometimes it is right to do wrong. The film is good-natured and inoffensive (although I’m pretty sure I heard a fart in there about halfway through). If a family film is meant to entertain your children while teaching them a valuable lesson, then consider Catch That Kid a worthy investment. They’ll have a good time and thank you when they’re older.