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Thunderbirds (PG)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: One

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: None listed

THE daring, all-strings attached exploits of International Rescue had children hooked, between 1965 and 1966, when Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds was at the peak of its popularity, so it was almost inevitable that a film would get made, given the current trend for revisiting television classics.

Sadly, the live-action makeover virtually stalls on the launch pad, turning what should have been a glorious nostalgia trip into a curiously flat affair, because of its decision to turn the heroes in question into also-rans.

Jonathan Frakes’ movie dispenses with the names made famous by the puppets early on, choosing to concentrate on the growing pains of their children, who are forced to come-of-age themselves when their illustrious family becomes stricken.

Hence, we are left with Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet) as our guide, the youngest of the Tracy clan, who, having been forced to watch from the sidelines for too long, is suddenly forced, with his friends, to save the family, himself, when they are sent on a fake mission by their arch-nemesis, The Hood (Sir Ben Kingsley), so that he can mastermind a daring bank robbery.

As a result, viewers are confronted with a Famous Five-type scenario, as the trio of youngsters - including Fermat (Soren Fulton) and Tin-Tin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) - run about Tracy Island bidding to thwart The Hood and save the world at the same time.

The ensuing adventure finds them discovering the value of team-work, finding young love and earning the respect of their fathers as well.

Yet it misses the main selling point of the television series itself - namely, watching the Thunderbirds themselves in action.

The film marks the most ambitious project undertaken to date by Working Title Films (the company behind such hits as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually), yet while it does contain some nice touches, they only serve to make the numerous failures all the more disappointing.

On the plus side, Sir Ben Kingsley delivers a wickedly malevolent turn as The Hood, seemingly revelling in the opportunity to play a lighter role for a change, while the look of the film is suitably spectacular, especially during the all-important launch sequences for the Thunderbirds machines.

Sophia Myles also does well, as the unflappable Lady Penelope, while Ron Cook seems to have nailed the ability to deliver his dry, ‘yes, m’Lady’ lines, with relish.

But in all other aspects, Frakes seems to be pulling the wrong strings, over-loading his movie with hopelessly contrived situations and cliché-ridden characters.

Bill Paxton’s Jeff Tracy is far too earnest to be believable, delivering one groan-inducing line after another, while Anthony Edwards, as Brains, seems hindered by the curious decision to saddle him with a stammer that quickly becomes tiresome.

Young viewers may find themselves enthralled by proceedings, especially if they haven’t had the chance to see the original series, but for anyone who grew up watching Gerry Anderson’s cult creations, the film is a tremendously wasted opportunity.

This is, at the end of the day, a children’s film which almost has a duty to appeal to the adults, given that it should be rekindling fond childhood memories, as well as inspiring the youth.

Its failure to do so renders it distinctly less FAB than it clearly thinks it is, forcing viewers to pine for a return of the puppets.

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