Spy Kids 2
The Island of Lost Dreams

review by Dan Lybarger, 9 August 2002

Stratospheric Imagination

Like a lot of sequels, Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams lacks the freshness of the original. Fortunately, writer-director and jack-of-all-trades (he does his own editing and cinematography and even plays some of the music) Robert Rodriguez makes up for this deficiency by flexing his imagination into several delightfully bizarre directions.

Shot on digital video for only $1 million more than its predecessor, Rodriguez crams in enough exotic creatures, fancy gadgets, humor and action to make the movie's contents practically leap out of the frame.

In this installment, Carmen and Juni Cortez (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) find themselves part of a much larger Spy Kids organization. Even though they saved their superagent parents Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) in the last movie, they are now only deemed fit to be Level 2 agents instead of the elite Level 1.  Worse, Gregorio's well-deserved promotion winds up going to fellow agent Donnagon Giggles (Beavis and Butt-Head creator Mike Judge). Donnagon 's ascent seems especially suspicious because his children Gary and Gerti (Matthew O'Leary and Emily Osment) now receive all the plum assignments.

Juni and Carmen quickly get the chance to prove their mettle when thieves get their hands on the U.S. President's top-secret device that can render other electrical gismos useless. Carmen's relentless computer hacking leads the two of them to a remote uncharted island off the coast of Africa. Uncharted and invisible to radar, the area is home to a tormented (but not exactly mad) scientist named Romero (the appropriately sullen Steve Buscemi). His experiments have populated the island with flying pigs, spider monkeys (half arachnid, half primate) and feisty skeletons that would make puppet animation guru Ray Harryhausen proud.

If Rodriguez had merely settled on making just these imaginative beasts, Spy Kids 2 would have been sufficiently engaging, but the director has a seemingly endless gift for surprises. There's an amiable insect-shaped robot named Ralph, and he even takes the time to introduce Ingrid Cortez's fussy parents (Holland Taylor and Ricardo Montalban). While her dad might have lost the use of his legs, his flying wheelchair helps explain how his progeny has managed to have such a knack for operating gadgets. It also doesn't hurt that Montalban projects enough sly charm to compete with Rodriguez's hyperactive visuals and pacing.

To be fair, the director has a facility with flesh and blood performers. As in the last movie Vega and Sabara frequently carry their scenes, and Rodriguez is able to get an energy and zeal out of Banderas that most other American directors can't. In a few brief scenes in Rodriguez's movies, Banderas gets to show the same wit and flair he consistently demonstrated in fellow Spaniard Pedro Almodóvar's flicks.

For the most part, the director's fondness for excess pays off handsomely. If one special effect looks a little too much like a computer-generated image (Donnagon's enormous office), the next one (a carnival ride where guests are actually juggled) manages to impress.

Every now and then, though, Rodriguez revels in sophomoric humor that seems out of place in a kid flick. Spy Kids 2 opens in them park where ill-prepared passengers frequently lose their meals on the proprietor's umbrella. While Bill Paxton plays the role with enough bemused detachment to make the gag work, one wonders what Rodriguez could have done if he had spent less time thinking of how to fit vomit and camel dung into a movie. At least the latter gets points for being rare in cinema.

The digital photography still looks a little too grainy for my taste. The first movie was shot on 35 millimeter, and has a much crisper sheen. To his credit, Rodriguez is able to shoot exteriors without getting that bleached out look that mars some otherwise fine digitally shot films like Lovely and Amazing.

Because of the relative inexpensiveness of digital video, Rodriguez is able to dish out a smorgasbord of crazed make-believe for a fraction of what it cost to make such special effects snoozes as Men in Black 2 and Attack of the Clones. If Rodriguez has consistently proven one thing, it's that all of the production money in world can be pretty boring in the wrong hands. By keeping his budgets low and his imagination in the stratosphere, Rodriguez has left just enough room for the thrills that more profligate filmmakers don't seem to offer.


Written and
Directed by:

Robert Rodriguez

Antonio Banderas
Carla Gugino
Alexa Vega
Daryl Sabara
Dale Dudley
Steve Buscemi

PG - Parental
Guidance Suggested.
Some material may 
not be appropriate 
for children






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