Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker

Nancy Churnin [The Dallas Morning News]

Alex Pettyfer and Sarah Bolger star in \"Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker.\"

A kid's taste for "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker" may tell you if he'll like James Bond in a few years. Or, rather, in a month, since the grown-up Bond, the inspiration for Anthony Horowitz's best-selling British teen spy series, can be seen in "Casino Royale" in November.

Yes, we've got brand new blond junior and grown-up Bonds this season, but the toughest task for Baby Bond could be finding an audience. Parents may find themselves a bit queasy bringing the 10-and-under crowd to "Alex Rider," with all its explosives and deaths. And older boys will probably prefer the real thing.

"Agent Cody Banks" and Robert Rodriguez's "Spy Kids" franchise captured that younger audience by downplaying the violence and ratcheting up the humor, showing even super spies have their, "Aww, mom, please!" moments.

And while there are some laughs sprinkled in "Alex Rider," essentially this is the story of a steely-jawed, 14-year-old orphan, whose only parental authority is an uncle who dies in the opening scene.

Alex (handsome newcomer Alex Pettyfer) thinks his late Uncle Ian was a boring banker until he spots the clues that lead him to believe his uncle was a spy. (Note to Alex: Dashing Ewan "Obi-Wan Kenobi" McGregor' boring?) Once his suspicions are confirmed, he begins to realize that his uncle may have been secretly preparing him to be a spy, too, by teaching him martial arts, languages, scuba diving and mountaineering.

But is Alex prepared to take those skills and use them to complete the mission that cost his uncle his life? He will have to take on a billionaire computer maker (Mickey Rourke) who plays on kids' love of technology in a plot to take over the world. (The character is essentially an extremely violent version of the troubled Toymaker in need of a little love in "Spy Kids 3D: Game Over").

Horowitz made some changes from the book, most notably transforming the villain from an Egyptian to an L.A. mogul with a computer chip on his shoulder. But other villains remain stereotyped: the bad German, Nadia Vole (Texas-born Missi Pyle); the bad Russian, Yassen Gregorovich (Damian Lewis); and a malevolent mute (Andy Serkis).

"Alex Rider," with its fine British cast and emphasis on a teen's double-life, tries to tap into the "Harry Potter" audience. Alex even refers to Hogwarts as he enters an underground spy world. Robbie Coltrane, who plays Rubeus Hagrid in "Harry Potter," portrays the prime minister.

But "Harry Potter" is a much deeper adventure. It's a tale unafraid to jump into the deep end with a look at good vs. evil, self-sacrifice vs. self-aggrandizement.

"Alex Rider," as the name suggests, is no more than a sometimes thrilling ride with clever gadgetry, derring-do and a teen love interest named Sabina Pleasure (Sarah Bolger).

A Bond ride, for those whose tastes run that way.



Grade: C

Starring Alex Pettyfer, Ewan McGregor, Bill Nighy, Robbie Coltrane, Andy Serkis and Mickey Rourke. Directed by Geoffrey Sax. PG (for sequences of action violence and some peril). 93 mins. In wide release.


© 2006, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.





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