"He's not a child - he's a lethal weapon!" mutters an exasperated army bigwig in teen action flick Stormbreaker. He's talking about Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer), the 14-year-old schoolboy seconded to British intelligence after his super-spy uncle (Ewan McGregor) is murdered by evil billionaire Darrius Sayle (Mickey Rourke). But he also supplies a snappy hook for this fledgling mini-Bond franchise which, with its familiar combo of gadgets, stunts and London geography, feels like Johnny English crossed with Agent Cody Banks 2.
At no point, alas, does Geoffrey Sax's campy caper - based on the first of Anthony Horowitz's best-selling children's novels - approach the breezy confidence of Spy Kids, or indeed the 007 films themselves. It's a matter of tone really, with Rourke's lizard-eyed malevolence continually undercut by crunchingly unsubtle turns from Bill Nighy (as Rider's M-style boss) and Stephen Fry (as a Q-like techie whiz) that would be better suited to pantomime. And then there's Alicia Silverstone, simply ghastly as Alex's over-protective American nanny.
"PLAYFULLY HUMOROUS AND GENUINELY EXCITING"
At its best - a martial arts dust-up at a car-crushing plant, a quad bike pursuit along Rourke's private air strip - Stormbreaker gets the balance right, managing to be both playfully humorous and genuinely exciting. (There's also an underwater scrap with a giant jellyfish that will put youngsters off calamari for life.) If the series is to continue, though, the producers should consider ditching the painfully limited Master Pettyfer, a posh blond pretty-boy with a sullen strop for every occasion and a freckled konk one could never tire of punching.