A bigger, flashier, more imaginative sequel to 2001's surprise hit,
"Spy Kids," "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams" also holds the
distinction of lacking the warmth and soul that made its predecessor
such a worthwhile family entertainment. Director Robert Rodriguez
evidently felt pressure to outdo the original film in every way, but
his "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" approach grows wearisome by
the halfway point. In "Spy Kids 2," there has seen an obvious increase
in characters and special effects, but a decrease in solid plotting
and heartwarming character interactions.
As the picture begins, top sibling spies Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni
Cortez (Daryl Sabara) feel cheated and underappreciated when they
save the young daughter (Taylor Momsen) of the President from atop
a violent amusement park ride, but the credit goes to smarmy child
spy rivals Gary (Matthew O'Leary) and Gerti Giggles (Emily Osment).
When Gary and Gerti are sent on a mission to locate a stolen device
capable of shutting down the world's electricity, Carmen and Juni
redirect their path to the Gobi Desert and decide that this job is
their only chance to prove everyone wrong about their abilities. After
crash-landing on a mysterious island not seen on any maps, the only
resident they find is mad scientist Romero (Steve Buscemi), who is
holding their sought-after device and planning to set its abilities
into action. Meanwhile, Juni and Carmen's adult spy parents, Gregorio
(Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino), set off to find them,
with Ingrid's own mother (Holland Tayl! or) and father (Ricardo Montalban) in tow.
As you may be able to tell, "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams"
is overstuffed to the point of tedium. Too much is going on in this
too-long 100-minute family action pic to get a chance to stop and
make you care, or even really get to know, any of the new characters.
In the first "Spy Kids," the joyous, intentionally B-grade special
effects were at the service of the spy kids' mission, rather than
as a means of showing off, and the familial relationship between the
Cortez's seemed believable and loving. Here, the parents drift into
the background to such a degree that Antonio Banderas (2001's "Original
Sin") and Carla Gugino (2001's "The One") make little more than extended, aimless cameos.
Since the movie is but a melange of sound and action, at least it
is orchestrated with pep and style under the helm of writer-director
Robert Rodriguez (1998's "The Faculty"). The prologue, set at a demented
amusement park where the extreme rides truly look life-threatening,
is a visual feast of creativity and special effects virtuosity. Additionally,
Romero's island is overrun by deformed animal creatures that include
a winged pig, slithering serpents, and a cow with a fish's head. Rodriguez
has said that he brought to life in "Spy Kids 2" every dream he has
ever had. In shadow of the evidence provided, I would almost believe
him on such a statement, although that may leave him with few invigorating
ideas when "Spy Kids 3" goes into production next year.
Reprising their roles of bickering, but caring, siblings Carmen and
Juni, Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara ease smoothly back into their characters.
Despite working as spies, they seem like real kids, with the sort
of intelligence and resourcefulness that young viewers will eat up.
As their less virtuous spy kid adversaries, Matthew O'Leary (2002's
"Frailty") and Emily Osment do good work without overacting. It must
be said that Osment, Haley Joel's younger sister, looks ominously
like her brother with pigtails. The creepy resemblance is almost uncanny.
Taylor Momsen (Little Cindy Lou Who in 2000's "How the Grinch Stole
Christmas") is also cute as the President's disgruntled daughter.
In a rare disappointing performance, Steve Buscemi (2001's "Ghost
World") is no match for the previous film's heavy, Alan Cumming (who
briefly shows up for a day's work). Buscemi isn't the least bit threatening;
in fact, his Romero is a veritable wimp.
With the climax of "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams" comes the
discouraging action of a shrug. The film will entertain children,
to be sure, and is clever enough to even be tolerable for the older
audience members, but it is plagued by an emptiness inside that cannot
be denied. Robert Rodriguez was so concerned this time around with
his visual effects unit that he denied the movie of what it yearned
for the most: a heart.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman