If the commercials for Zoom (directed by Peter Hewitt, who previously blessed you with Garfield, Tom and Huck, and Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey) make you think that Tim Allen's latest film is a bizarre cross between last year's surprisingly good Sky High and the Spy Kids flicks, you aren't too far off the mark. In Zoom, Allen plays Jack Shepard, formerly known as Captain Zoom, leader of Team Zenith, which, 30 years ago, fought to rid the world of evil and all that superhero stuff. That is, until General Larraby (Rip Torn), the bureaucrat in charge of the Zenith Program, decided to up the young superheroes' powers by zapping them with Gamma-13 rays, which turned Concussion, Zoom's older brother, into Evil Concussion, who then took out the rest of Team Zenith before Captain Zoom took him down, sacrificing his own powers in the process. Whew. Got all that? Because that's just the back story.
Now, 30 years after cooling his heels in some other dimension of space-time, Concussion is heading back to a vortex in the continuum to come and seek his revenge on his little brother, and, presumably, to threaten life as we know it. So General Larraby decides to reactivate the Zenith Program, with a new crop of unsuspecting youngsters possessing super-talents -- and to reactivate Captain Zoom (now known as Jack) to train the new recruits. Jack, who now lives a quiet life running an auto shop, is rudely pulled from his now hum-drum existence by Dr. Grant (Chevy Chase), who was Team Zenith's goofy scientist side-kick (think "Q" from the Bond series, cross-bred with Uncle Felix from Spy Kids, only dorkier and more, uh, Chevy Chase-ish), who takes Jack down with a tranquilizer dart and hauls him off to Area 52, headquarters of the Zenith Program.
The kids chosen for the new Team Zenith are Tucker (Spencer Breslin, older brother of Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin), a chubby kid who can expand himself to gargantuan proportions; Summer (Kate Mara), who has the power of telekinesis; Dylan (Michael Cassidy), who can render himself invisible; and Cindy (Ryan Newman), age six, who can hurl cars through the air with the greatest of ease. It falls to Marsha, the program's psychologist (Courteney Cox) and Jack to get these four young kids "combat ready" -- to go up against a super-villain, no less -- in 10 short days. Oh, and for some reason, no one bothers to let Jack know why he's supposed to train these kids, or that his brother is even still alive. That information is on a "need-to-know" basis, and apparently General Larraby doesn't think Jack needs to know those little details.
To say Jack is a reluctant recruit is to put it mildly. He loathes the Zenith program for taking away his brother, and Larraby for using a group of kids for his own purpose. This time around, though, there's sweet, motherly Marsha -- who adores Team Zenith and Captain Zoom -- on the team. Team Zenith's adventures, you see, were captured in comic books (government propaganda, sayeth Jack), and Marsha, a misfit loner of a child, turned to Captain Zoom as her only source of comfort. Her excitement at finally meeting her hero is somewhat tempered, though, when she realizes that Jack has no interest whatsoever in helping to revive the dormant program. When Jack discovers Larraby plans to zap this batch of kids with Gamma-13 as well, though, he suddenly realizes he's come to feel protective of his young charges, and springs into action to save them.
Okay, the plot is a little thin, sure, but it's a kids' fantasy film, so who really cares? There's some decent acting going on, and some interesting casting choices, with Chevy Chase playing the straight comedic role to the physical comedy of Cox's clumsy, bespectacled shrink. Cox is actually quite good in this role; she has an excellent sense of comedic timing, and the role of Marsha lets her really have fun with it. Allen does his thing just as ably as he usually does. He's always "Tim Allen" to me no matter what role I see him in, but hey, it works for him and for the films he takes on (though I still haven't forgiven him for the abysmal Jungle 2 Jungle). For some reason, when Allen voiced Buzz Lightyear, I was able to buy him wholly as the character and not the actor, but when I see him in a physical role, I can't get past Home Improvement. Maybe it's just because I really liked Allen on that show, and that's how I see him; perhaps it's because he puts so much "Tim Allen" into his characters, I don't know.
The biggest problem Zoom is going to face may be its title, which doesn't really tell you a lot about what to expect from it (unlike Spy Kids and Sky High, which both gave you a better idea from the start what they were about). Zoom is tame enough even for younger kids (they'll probably especially like Breslin's character, when they roll out the special-effects to make his various body parts seem huge), and funny enough for older kids; it kept my nine-year-old daughter, who was my viewing companion for the last-minute screening this morning, laughing out loud for most of its 83-minute viewing time.
As for the adults, well, I wouldn't say Zoom is a film I'd go to if I didn't have kids dragging me there, but on the other hand, I wasn't sitting on the edge of my seat, keeping myself in the theater by sheer force of will, as I was with the last Spy Kids flick and the atrociously bad Shark Boy and Lava Girl. Overall, Zoom is a fairly engaging little family film, and while it does have its moments of outright silliness, well, at least the actors seem to be aware of the nature of the film. Nobody's expecting an Oscar nod out of this, but they'll keep you and your kids amused, and that, in a summer of too many mediocre family films, isn't so bad.