The Island of Lost Dreams
review by Dan Lybarger, 9 August 2002
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
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
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.