Less than a year and a half ago, writer/director Robert Rodriguez
surprised moviegoers with "Spy Kids," a zippy adventure featuring loads
of nifty high-tech gadgets, delightfully retro special effects and a
welcome sense of silliness. Even better, it presented a fully functional
family, something rarely seen in popular entertainment. Sister and
brother Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) squabbled like any
set of siblings, but they also clearly loved each other. Even better,
their parents, secret agents Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid
(Carla Gugino), were a smart, supportive couple madly in love (and,
after years of marriage, still in lust). What a refreshing change from
the usual Hollywood approach.
"Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams" isn't as good. The sense of
discovery is gone, of course, but the main problem is that Rodriguez
caught a case of sequel fever, the ailment infamous for making
filmmakers believe that, when designing a sequel, more is always better.
"Spy Kids 2" is far too busy, with too many people and too much going
on. Still, the film retains enough charm to offset the excess.
This time the adventure begins with our heroes saving the rebellious
daughter of the president of the United States (Taylor Momsen).
Inter-agency politics have reduced the influence of the kids' father,
Gregario, and as a result, agent Donnagan Giggles ("Beavis and Butthead"
and "King of the Hill" creator Mike Judge) gets to hand the juicy
assignments to his spy kids, Gary (Matthew O'Leary) and Gerti (Emily
Osment, Haley Joel's little sister).
Ah, but Carmen and Juni will not so easily be sidelined. When Gary and
Gerti head out to retrieve a device capable of shutting down all
electricity on the Earth, Carmen manages to alter their route, sending
them off to the Gobi Desert while she and her brother hop in the spy
ship for an underwater jaunt to the island where the device actually has
Once on the island, they encounter a number of very large, bizarre,
hybrid animals and Romero (Steve Buscemi), the twitchy scientist that
made them. Traumatized by the fruits of his experiments, Romero has
become a recluse, cowering in his lab, terrified of the giants wandering
outside his doors.
Gary and Gerti eventually show up on the island, setting up a momentous
spy kids vs. spy kids face off. But Carmen and Juni are mortified when
their folks show up. And, just when it seems like the situation could
not become worse, the kids find out that Mom and Dad have been joined by
Grandpa (Ricardo Montalban) and Grandma (Holland Taylor).
Can the kids defeat the monsters, or will they die of embarrassment
Everything that worked in the first film still works here: the loopy,
immature humor, the just-cheesy-enough special effects and especially
the central cast. Young Vega and Sabara make a dandy team, and the older
members of the family are equally appealing. Antonio Banderas and Carla
Gugino still sizzle, and the addition of Ricardo Montalban and Holland
Taylor as the grandparents is inspired. So much so, in fact, that
Rodriguez would be wise to consider breaking from the series long enough
to devote a more adult movie to the grown-up characters.
As the scientist playing Frankenstein with critters, the
always-entertaining Steve Buscemi delivers the most interesting line in
the film. Hiding from his genetically-engineered beasts, he turns to
Carmen and Juni and quietly asks, "Do you think God, too, stays in
Heaven for fear of what he created on Earth?"
That sentence alone justifies the existence of "Spy Kids 2: The Island
of Lost Dreams."
One discouraging note: At the advance screening I attended, there were
audible gasps from some adults when, late in the film, Carmen used the
word "shit." Their surprise was understandable, as the word seemed
wildly out of place. So why did Rodriguez elect to throw one swear word
into his movie? Simple: to avoid the stigma of a G rating. It seems that
older kids - the target audience for the movie - consider G-rated films
too babyish for their attention. But the insertion of one "shit" is
enough to secure a PG rating, thus making it acceptable for the older
A practical decision, sure, but also a sad one.
Copyright © 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott