Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams
Director : Robert Rodriguez
Screenplay : Robert Rodriguez
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Antonio Banderas (Gregorio Cortez), Carla Gugino (Ingrid Cortez), Alexa Vega (Carmen Cortez), Daryl Sabara (Juni Cortez), Steve Buscemi (Dr. Romero), Mike Judge (Donnagon Giggles), Danny Trejo (Machete), Cheech Marin (Felix Gumm), Matt O'Leary (Gary Giggles), Emily Osment (Gerti Giggles), Ricardo Montalban (Grandfather), Holland Taylor (Grandmother)
Like the first movie, Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams is a fantastically ridiculous kids' adventure-fantasy filled with bizarre creatures, outlandish gadgets, and anything and everything else Rodriguez's supple imagination could conjure up. Working with digital special effects that bring to mind the wonderful stop-motion animation of Ray Harryhausen, Rodriguez (who, in addition to writing, directing, editing, and producing, also served as production designer and composed much of the music) has created a fantasy realm that is both new and intoxicatingly retro. Nothing looks "real" in the conventional cinematic sense, but it works all the better for it.
Even more so than the first Spy Kids, which was released just a little over a year ago, Spy Kids 2 is ludicrously cartoonish, a whacked-out melding of James Bond and Tex Avery. The opening sequence sets the tone, with a rescue mission at an amusement park run by Bill Paxton that features rides taken to the nth degree, including one called "The Juggler" in which a gigantic, multi-armed machine literally juggles large plastic balls filled with willing thrill seekers.
All of the main characters from the first movie are back, but now the kids are certified secret agents themselves in the new "Spy Kids" program of the OSS. This time around, they don't save the day because their parents have been captured, but rather because they are called on themselves. Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara return as Carmen and Juni Cortez, pint-sized superspys now 13 and 10, respectively, who travel to a mysterious island to track down an improbable device with the purposefully silly name of "the Transmooger," which has the power to stop all electronic technology. Most of the action in Spy Kids 2 takes place on this island, which is run by a reclusive genetics engineer named Dr. Romero (Steve Buscemi). Dr. Romero has succeeded in mixing and matching animal types, thus generating a whole host of new creatures (for example, combining a horse and a fly to create a "Horsefly," or a gorilla and a spider to make a "Spidermonkey") that have essentially taken over the island.
There's competition this time around for Carmen and Juni, however, in the form of another brother-sister spy team, Gary (Matt O'Leary) and Gerti (Emily Osment, sister of Haley Joel Osment) Giggles, whose father, Donnagon (Beavis and Butt-head creator Mike Judge), has just been named head of OSS, but is also behind a devious plan to use to the Transmooger to take over the world. Of course, Carmen and Juni's spy parents, Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino), are part of the action, as well, with the addition of Ingrid's nosy parents (Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor), who have never approved of Gregorio and don't mind letting that be known.
As in the first movie, Rodriguez maintains a manic pace, throwing us directly into the action from the opening frames and rarely letting up until the last credit has rolled. This style of constantly hammering the audience with audacious visuals and comical sound effects would be tiresome if Rodriguez's visions weren't so strangely cool. Having channeled everything from Jason and the Argonauts, to Raiders of the Lost Ark, to Spider-Man, Rodriguez has churned out a pastiche of the new and the old that is great fun, but almost overwhelming.
Some of the movie's best moments are in the small details, especially an irresistibly adorable mechanical bug named Ralph that Juni uses to tie his bowtie and spy on the Giggles kids (the scene involving Ralph making his way across a crowded office by shooting webs ala Spider-Man is worth the price of admission alone). And, of course, Ricardo Montalban, he of the velvet voice and suave demeanor, has great fun in the role of the know-it-all father-in-law, particularly in sparring with Antonio Banderas, who again manages to poke fun at himself while still retaining his cool.
Amazingly enough, despite all the special effects and the silly plot, Spy Kids 2 never feels quite as mechanical and formulated as it is. It isn't until you leave the theater exhausted that you realize how little Rodriguez has invested in the characters this time around. Carmen's conflicted crush on the snotty Gary Giggles is a nice touch for her budding character, but she and Juni are less real this time around, more cartoonish. Yet, the movie ultimately works in its own right because Rodriguez still manages to make the theme of familial solidarity the binding glue that holds it together without condescending or seeming preachy. The Cortezes, in-laws included, are a family that you genuinely want to see stick together.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick