Back Shelf Beauties
by Willie Waffle

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Get those ideas of cheesy marionettes out of your head! This is a remake of the famous kids show, but Thunderbirds has been "re-imagined" for a new generation featuring Tiger Beat cover boys, ready-for-toy-manufacturers spaceships, and older actors who hope this turns into a high paying franchise that will help fund a nice summer vacation home on the coast. Thankfully, Thunderbirds hasn't been destroyed for a new generation.

Brady Corbet stars as Alan Tracy - the youngest, teen son of billionaire former astronaut Jeff Tracy (Bill "Running With The Shadows Of The Night" Paxton). Dad leads a secret group of superheroes called the Thunderbirds, who use fabulous spaceships and computer gizmos to save people from disasters all across the globe (I'll have to remember to call them next time I'm on a date gone bad). As each son gets old enough, he gets to become a Thunderbird, and Alan can't wait for his chance. Of course, Dad is trying to get Alan to slow down and worry more about his schooling instead of jumping into these big responsibilities before he is ready.

Meanwhile, a mysterious bad guy who calls himself The Hood (Ben Kingsley) has found the Thunderbirds' secret South Pacific island, and unhatched a dastardly plan to rob banks all across the world. As The Hood takes over their headquarters and leaves the Thunderbirds helpless, only Alan and his two buddies, Fermat (Soren Fulton) and Tintin (Vanessa Ann Hudgens), stand any chance of stopping him.

Will Alan and his team overtake this powerful villain? Will Alan learn a few lessons along the way (as if you didn't see that coming)? Why does The Hood hate Jeff Tracy?

When it focuses on the action, Thunderbirds surprisingly is an entertaining, even compelling movie. However, director Jonathan "Number One" Frakes and writers William Osborne and Michael McCullers try too hard to dumb down the movie and inject unneeded coming of age elements. Thunderbirds is like an after school special on steroids as Alan learns how to play well with others, discovers the "blossoming" girl next door, and discovers respect for those who are differently gifted, all without messing up the product in his carefully tousled hair. It feels forced for a younger audience that doesn't care if these messages are included in the film. Maybe it's there for the parents, so they feel good about letting their kids go see Thunderbirds. However, while they often force too much comic relief to lighten the mood, Osborne and McCullers do provide a strong, uncomplicated plot, which allows Frakes' to spruce it up with solid action scenes (and a chance to find work for his wife, what a great hubby).

Kingsley, a great actor, is head and shoulders above everyone else, but would you expect otherwise? Instead of phoning it in and collecting the check, Sir Ben gives The Hood a realistic streak of evil that is neither cartoonish nor too heavy for a movie aimed at kids. He's scary, but not frightening. Whereas other respected actors have broken my heart by going overly cartoonish in kids movies (Robert De Niro in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, I'm glad I fell asleep half way through the film before I lost all respect for him), Kingsley takes the role seriously and doesn't lose any dignity. Maybe Paxton and Anthony Edwards should have taken a cue from the Oscar winner.

Paxton comes off too stiff, even in the attempts at touching father-son moments that are supposed to warm our hearts, while Edwards is overly one-dimensional as Brains - the group's stuttering Q-like character who is master of all things technical and computerish. Edwards needs to take it down a notch and find the dignity deep within Brains. He would be more interesting as the confident scientist instead of the tag along smart nerd. Thunderbirds even has a break out star in its cast, but not who you might think.

While Corbet will dominate every tween girl magazine for the next few months (and, why do I think he's going to show up on some WB show teen drama?), mark my words, Sophia Myles, who portrays Lady Penelope, is going to be a huge star. She's beautiful, no big surprise there, but Myles makes something special out of a one-dimensional character who would be sentenced to eye candy status in lesser hands. She gives Lady Penelope an understated, sexy sassiness with each line of dialogue, and captures your attention when she's on screen. It was a refreshing performance in a role that could have fallen into outdated stereotypes. Some will argue her equal opportunity ability to kick booty is a modern touch, but I think the attitude she brings to the character is much more important than the physical skills.

Thunderbirds suffers from moments of dumbing down, but it's not the worst movie you could see this weekend.

2 ½ Waffles (out of 4)

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