It's a relief to catch a movie with a boy hero who isn't a man who acts like a boy. Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer) is a teenage superspy, and even while undercover, he acts like it. Deep in voice, lanky in build, with a salon-crisp, feathered haircut, Alex looks like an escapee from a boy band, not a budding master of espionage.
That news should please the girly-girls who plan to attend `` Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker." For kids strung out on Anthony Horowitz's 007-lite adventure series, this maiden adaptation is a pleasant enough diversion from having to flip the pages.
Alex has spent most of his childhood believing that his guardian, Uncle Ian (Ewan McGregor), never spends time with him because he's off being a banker. When Ian is killed, the boy discovers the truth. Not only was his uncle a British intelligence agency spy, he'd been surreptitiously training his nephew to follow in his footsteps. Alex speaks French, German, and Japanese, and he's quite the martial artist.
Being an international man of mystery doesn't interest him, though. He'd rather go to class. But spymasters Bill Nighy and Sophie Okonedo (looking fetching in a big headband and Condoleezza Rice power suits) play hardball. If Alex doesn't take their mission, his Uncle Ian's devoted American assistant (Alicia Silverstone) gets deported.
So it's off to basic training (Gorillaz is on the soundtrack), then to the mission, which amounts to stopping Mickey Rourke's computer virus from destroying the world's classrooms. Rourke is still mad that, when they were boys all those years ago, the current prime minister (Robbie Coltrane) bullied him.
Geoffrey Sax's filmmaking holds few surprises -- Whiz! Bang! Boom! Ha ha ha! -- but it's swift and competent, despite too many shots of cars on roads that bloat the running time.
Alex's gadgets, including a zit cream tube of acid, are neat. Missi Pyle is a hoot as an irritable crypto-Nazi (``Zere iz no pinballs!"). And Rourke proves surprisingly game to make himself over as camp. He clomps through the movie in theatrical Vivienne Westwood-ly suits with corresponding teal eye shadow.
Through it all, he sucks on a toothpick, as if he just left a deli. He could be this movie's villain. Or he could be Prince on human growth hormone.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.