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Upbeat diversion: ‘We Can Be Heroes’ a candy-colored, kid-friendly action film with grown-up appeal

Boyd Holbrook as Miracle Guy in Neftlix’s “We Can Be Heroes.” (Ryan Green/Netflix)

They can be heroes. Just for one day.

We hear certain characters singing the chorus to David Bowie’s classic art-rock masterpiece more than once, and we get the “we can be heroes” message throughout writer-director Robert Rodriguez’s breezy, candy-colored, kid-friendly and cheerfully strange “We Can Be Heroes,” a stand-alone sequel to Rodriguez’s equally loony and upbeat “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D” from 2005.

“Are you saying we could be heroes?” comes the question from one little superhero in the making. “We could be heroes, just for one day,” another mini-superhero sings in reply, and then quips, “Sorry, it was there for the taking!”

That kind of self-aware humor permeates “We Can Be Heroes,” which has the vibe of a Saturday morning live-action serial, only with better special effects. Though aimed at a young audience, this is one of those superhero adventures that will keep the adults entertained as well.

Quinton Johnson as Crimson Legend, Brittany Perry-Russell as Red Lightning Fury, Pedro Pascal as Marcus Moreno, Christian Slater as Tech-No and Haley Reinhart as Ms. Vox in “We Can Be Heroes.” (Ryan Green/Netflix)

Our narrator and hero-in-the-making is one Missy Moreno (YaYa Gosselin, in a winning performance), who tells us, “At a time in the world when things were feeling less and less certain, there was one thing you could always count on: the Heroics. Our planet’s team of superheroes.” The Heroics once were led by Missy’s single father, Pedro Pascal’s Marcus Moreno, but Marcus has made a deal with Missy: He’ll continue to work from a desk job at Heroics headquarters (which resembles a downgraded version of the Avengers facility), but he’ll keep his feet firmly planted on the ground. (So, in the same week Pedro Pascal is playing the main villain in “Wonder Woman 1984,” he’s on the side of good in “We Can Be Heroes.”)

Ah, but the best-laid plans of mice and men and superheroes often go awry, and Marcus is pressed into action to join the likes of Christian Slater’s Tech-No, Boyd Holbrook’s Miracle Guy and the grown-up Sharkboy and Lavagirl, who are now married with a young daughter, to take on an armada of alien ships invading Earth’s atmosphere. (Taylor Dooley reprises her role as Lavagirl, but Taylor Lautner was reportedly unavailable to return as Sharkboy, so a masked J.J. Dashnaw takes over the role.) The Heroics are no match for this army of purple-colored flying machines with mechanical tentacles and are soon captured and held prisoner. Meanwhile, the children of the Heroics have been quarantined in an underground bunker at Heroics headquarters, the better to protect them from the aliens.

Christopher McDonald’s bumbling POTUS addresses the nation and says, “People of America, as you have witnessed, the Heroics have been captured. … It all looks rather hopeless. Bad. Hopelessly bad.”

“How did this guy ever get elected?” one of the kids asks. “He can’t even put two sentences together.”

Like I said: Jokes for the kids and jokes for the grown-ups.

Missy is the only one in the kids’ group who doesn’t have demonstrable superpowers, but she’s a natural leader, and she spearheads a mission to escape from the bunker, invade the aliens’ mother ship and save their parents – and the world. Her sidekicks are a diverse group who initially are at odds with one another but must learn to get along despite their differences and work together, and that’s your main message of “Heroes” right there. It’s a likable group of kids (though some of the child actors overdo it with the mugging and the over-the-top line readings), and the proceedings are livened up by Priyanka Chopra Jonas as the strait-laced Mrs. Granada, a civilian who is the director of Heroics, and the wonderful Adriana Barraza, grandmother to Missy and the founder of the Heroics.

As much as we’d like to see theaters reopening as soon as it’s safe, “Heroes” is actually the kind of movie that works just fine on the home screen. It’s a perfectly serviceable 90-minute diversion, and we can’t have too many entertaining diversions these days.

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