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FAMILY VEHICLE
'THUNDERBIRDS' FUELED BY LOTS OF ADVENTUROUS FUN

THUNDERBIRDS ***

STARRING: Bill Paxton, Brady Corbet, Ben Kingsley

DIRECTOR: Jonathan Frakes

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

RATING: PG for intense action sequences and language

THE LOWDOWN: A family of international rescuers face the evil criminal, the Hood.

With a rallying cry of "Thunderbirds are go!," Jeff Tracy and his sons jump into spiffy uniforms and blast off in high-tech vehicles as the top-secret rescue group the Thunderbirds.

Dangerous job, but someone's got to do it. And why not? When they're finished saving the world, the Tracy family heads to its very own island, a tropical paradise that also serves as headquarters to the International Rescue Unit. They play games, hang out and chat around the dinner table about mundane family topics like their greatest adventure. ("It was Fiji." "No, it wasn't Fiji, it was Istanbul." "No, it was Argentina.")

But when the call for help comes, the fun stops. Palm trees fall aside, a swimming pool slides sideways underground, and furniture drops beneath the floor as all sorts of rockets, computers and sleek machinery take their place.

Left behind from the rescue missions is the youngest Tracy son, Alan (played by Brady Corbet), who follows his family's adventures with wide-eyed excitement and a yearning to be in on the action.

"I'm stuck in school, and my brothers are on another cool mission," he moans to his friend, the brainy little Fermat (the adorable Soren Fulton).

Never fear; Alan gets his chance to play a Thunderbird with the arrival of the Hood -- a really cool bad guy with heavy eye makeup and an Oscar-winning pedigree (Sir Ben Kingsley). It will be up to Alan and his pals to save the adults.

That's the story behind "Thunderbirds," a live-action update of the 1960s British TV cult classic. The original Thunderbirds were puppets created with Gerry Anderson's "supermarionation" technique. And this time around, the Thunderbirds take a back seat to a "Spy Kids"-type of plot that centers around young Alan. Still, the movie stands on its own as a rip-roaring blast of family entertainment.

Director Jonathan Frakes is no stranger to making sci-fi entertaining. A star of the TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generation," he also directed two big-screen "Star Trek" films ("Insurrection" and "First Contact"), along with "Clockstoppers."

The gadgets are nifty; the flying machines are awesome; and the movie is packed with lots of likable people and laughs. The great cast includes the always entertaining Bill Paxton, playing it nice and steady as dad, Jeff Tracy, and Anthony Edwards ("ER") hangs loose as the goofy genius, Brains. Adults will like the life lessons woven into the story. ("No school, no rockets," dad says to young Alan.) And eagle-eyed soap opera fans will spot Frakes' wife, Genie Francis, playing the blond newscaster.

But as much as I enjoyed "Thunderbirds," my 14-year-old nephew, Cory, wasn't impressed.

"It was too kiddish," he said, the same complaint he had with the "Spy Kids" films. Putting this in perspective, he's also connected to an intravenous drip of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy -- extended versions.

So outside of boys like Cory who are too grown up to like the kid stuff, others will find "Thunderbirds" lightweight but non-offensive fun. Adults who still have a kid inside will get a kick out of it, and girls will go gaga over the young Chad Michael Murray-look-alike Brady Corbet and the equally dishy four lads who play his older brothers. For those viewers, "Thunderbirds" will be a go.

e-mail: truberto@buffnews.com

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