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Secret Agent Club
(1996)
 

Director: John Murlowski                 
Cast:
Hulk Hogan, Richard Moll, Matthew McCurley


As I was watching Secret Agent Club, I remembered a movie I saw as a kid called Cloak and Dagger, starring Henry Thomas and Dabney Coleman. Like Secret Agent Club, it involved kids getting mixed up in the deadly world of espionage. Cloak and Dagger was violent, grim, and pulled no punches when it had to be serious. I enjoyed it a lot, and I actually learned a few things from it - that spying is no game, you have to keep your eyes open for evil people, and real life violence and danger is not fun, whether it happens to you or someone else. Secret Agent Club, on the other hand, has a less serious story, and less intense violence. It also gives us overacting cartoon villains, racial stereotypes, casual killings, and kids attacking terrorists a la Home Alone and afterwards cheering and laughing when they defeat these people trying to kill them. Is the less violent and intense choice always the best for kids?

Believe it or not, this "family" movie actually takes its call from True Lies. There's a female villain, and top-billed Hulk Hogan plays Chase, a nerdy single father working at a toy store who has a double life as a secret agent. After an opening scene where we see him stealing an ultra high-tech laser gun from an underground auction, we see him racing to get to the end of his son's baseball game. Hogan is surprisingly convincing and likable as a nerd in this scene, but before the movie can show more of this character and his relationship with his embarrassed son Jeremy, the bad guys track down Chase on the drive home and try to assassinate him. Jeremy actually thinks the wild chase and bullets flying are pretty cool (since his father is finally not acting like a nerd, I guess.) Chase gets kidnapped, and its up to Jeremy and the members of his "Secret Agent Club" to figure out what's going on, and to save Jeremy's dad.

With the opening bars of Jan Hammer's dramatic music, and shots over the opening credits of toy guns mixed with real guns on black, it becomes apparent that perhaps the people who made this movie didn't seem to understand that they were supposed to make a family film. What are we to make of a scene where someone gets shot several times by a laser, and then we see light shining through several holes in his body? Or the fact that the children show no real fear of multiple attempts on their lives? I'm not saying that kids will misinterpret this movie, and think real life is like this; kids are a lot smarter than you think, and it would take much, much more than a movie like this to warp their minds. But I think children will see something is not right when there's a scene of a growling villain (with a big steel leg) chasing after Jeremy, and Jeremy is laughing out loud and mocking the villain.

Kids will also notice a lot more wrong about this movie. No doubt they'll spot at least some of the countless camera reflections and shadows. They'll certainly be confused that this "Hulk Hogan movie" has the Hulkster for much of the movie down for the count, drugged into unconsciousness, and unable to do anything. And they'll probably wince when an elderly Japanese-American gets gleefully thrown around for a long time by the bad guys, and then has some metal shelves tipped over him. And speaking of his Japanese ancestry, it brings up an undercurrent that kids might not pick up. The character is stereotypically written to be oh-so-wise, and doesn't speak perfect English. These fact alone might not be enough to bring up a charge of racism against the filmmakers, but more evidence can be added by the man's visiting Japanese grandson, who is, of course, very skilled in karate, and also mangles the English language. Add the fact that the token black kid is friendly with members of a gang, and we might have a case here, even if the gang is uncharacteristically multi-racial.

I'm not sure what kids will think of this movie overall, despite seeing those flaws. Maybe they will like it, though I don't think it's going to be a movie they will want to watch again. Adults, being more discriminating, will see it as the stupid and offensive movie it is, having more ammunition for their cause. They'll sneer at the cheesy computer graphics, and see the same computer generated explosion used more than once. Attempts at pathos or symbolism (both, when Jeremy picks up a shattered framed photo of his family) may be amusing at first, but soon become embarrassingly bad. The action scenes are instantly repetitive and shabby in the eyes of older viewers, who are most accustomed to first-rate shoot-outs by Sam Peckinpah and John Woo. The utter lack of compassion for human life in this movie will rub off on older viewers - after seeing this movie, there's a good chance they'll feel like killing someone. So maybe this is the first movie that should be shielded from adults, instead of kids. All kidding aside, to tell the truth, I'd rather have my kids watch Cloak and Dagger and risk the chance of them being upset, rather than them watching Secret Agent Club.

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See also: King Kung Fu, Sherlock: Undercover Dog, Star Kid

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