Would kids really make good spies? Based on all available movie evidence, they would. They can squeeze into tight spaces and disguise bad-guy-busting gadgets as toys. What's more, nobody ever suspects them, because they're kids—even though, judging from Spy Kids, Agent Cody Banks, and now Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker, most of the agents working the field today are apparently too young to order their martinis shaken or stirred. But what of the ethics of putting kids in danger in the interest of security? Alas, Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker, based on the first in a series of young-adult novels written by Anthony Horowitz, dedicates exactly no scenes to this pressing issue. Instead, it focuses on Alex Pettyfer's kung-fu and explosion-filled adventures when he's drafted into an ultra-secret branch of the British secret service upon the death of his super-spy uncle Ewan McGregor.


His first task: infiltrate the stronghold of a computer manufacturer (Mickey Rourke) whose plan to donate a series of high-tech computers to the UK school system may hide a more nefarious agenda. Blandly brooding his way from one action scene to the next, Pettyfer makes for an acceptable junior-grade James Bond, and Bill Nighy (as Pettyfer's M), Stephen Fry (as his Q), and Rourke help liven up the film. Rourke's hammy, eyeliner-enhanced acting alone almost makes Alex Rider worth a look. By all appearances, Rourke received one bit of direction—"Start!"—which would explain the notes of lechery he introduces even into his scenes with Pettyfer.

The film, however, is much more predictable. Bond-for-kids done with some obvious budget restrictions, it's filled with fight scenes that cut to long shots whenever the action gets intense. But while its Ian Fleming aspirations remain unfulfilled, its J.K. Rowling borrowings suggest the franchise might have some potential. Pettyfer's Alex Rider is another orphan chosen for great things and drawn into a shadowy underworld (via a train station, no less, a similarity at least acknowledged in the dialogue) and his dark origins could lead to some interesting developments, if enough people show up to warrant a less by-the-numbers sequel. Thing is, even kids rarely show up to watch potential.