sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes)September 2002
2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Huge New Adventure - Slightly Larger Spies.

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (Dimension Films)
Review by Amy Harlib

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Directed & Written by: Robert Rodriguez  
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 .... Uncle Izzy "Machete" Cortez /Cheech Marin .... Felix Gumm /Matthew O'Leary .... Gary Giggles /Emily Osment .... Gerti Giggles /Ricardo Montalban .... Grandfather/ Holland Taylor .... Grandmother/ Alan Cumming .... Fegan Floop /Taylor Momsen .... Alexandra, President's Daughter /Christopher McDonald .... President 

Robert Rodriguez, creative mastermind behind the quirky but reasonably successful violent, action films El Mariachi (1992), Desperados (1995), From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and the hugely successful, family-friendly Spy Kids (2001), returns with a sequel to the last-mentioned production - Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams. The multi-talented Rodriguez not only wrote and directed this time out, he also deserves a Guinness World Record for doing so many jobs on one project; one wonders when the guy ever sleeps! Rodriguez also gets credit for cinematography, editing, co-writing the music, and production design - such creativity evoking astonishment and admiration and although his efforts this go round don't quite equal the freshness and the surprising charm of the first Spy Kids picture, they come very close.

Picking up where the predecessor film left off, Spy Kids 2 features the Latino-American Cortez family all firmly involved in the espionage business with the 2 protagonist children, 13 year old Carmen (Alexa Vega) and 10 year old Juni (Daryl Sabara) new members of the just-created junior division of the government's OSS secret agent organization to which their parents Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino) belong. A freshly-instituted, burgeoning, worldwide program recruiting and training young spies means competition and increasing desire for more responsibility and bigger missions in store for Carmen and Juni while the parents worry they may no longer be needed.

Sure enough, the Cortez kids face rivals, the Giggles siblings: teenage go-getter Gary (Matt O'Leary), on whom Carmen has a secret crush; and sassy, young Gerti (Emily Osment, Haley Joel's younger sister). Flaunting the newest gear and the trendiest outfits, the Giggles kids' one-upmanship no doubt being possible thanks to their Dad Donnegan's (Mike Judge) parallel rivalry with Gregorio Cortez in the adult department of the OSS.

Spy Kids 2 opens in a humorous parody of an amusement park (sharing name and logo with Rodriguez's production company Troublemaker, Inc.) where the very Texan proprietor Dinky Winks (Bill Paxton) delights in showing off his diabolically designed rides (The Vomiter, The Whippersnapper, The Juggler and more) to the President's (Christopher McDonald) daughter Alexandria (Taylor Momsen). Upset that her Dad doesn't have enough time for her, Alexandra, to attract attention to herself, has lifted the supersecret "Transmooker" Device from his office, unconcerned that the highly coveted, powerful object might fall into the erstwhile "wrong hands", dooming the world. When the wayward Alexandra, threatening to set the thing in question off, gets calmed down by the quartet of spy kids we know, the consequences of the President's offspring's actions starts a concatenation of events that leads to the Transmooker being stolen and then traced to the eponymous, tropical Island of Lost Dreams.

This locale, a sly, satirical nod to the abode and story of a certain Dr. Moreau from H.G. Well's classic novel and its cinematic adaptations, has one sole human inhabitant, Dr. Romero (Steve Buscemi), pleasing in the role of a gently demented (not a real villain) genetic scientist, creator of all kinds of imaginative and wondrous creatures many of which are embodiments of puns (the spidermonkey, the catfish, the slizzards, the horsefly, the delightful spork - a flying pig with sparrowlike wings, and many more). Here the connection between Donnegan's strange behavior; the Transmooker and its real function; the Island and its eccentric denizens comes clear after much comical excitement and derring do.

Along the way the audience gets treated to cameos by first-film veterans Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming), Alexander Minion (Tony Shaloub), Machete (Danny Trejo) and Uncle Felix Gumm (Cheech Marin), and introduced to new characters, most notably Ingrid Cortez's parents portrayed by Holland Taylor and the ever elegant and charismatic Ricardo Montalban. The viewers also get real enjoyment from the excellent, intentional, fond homages to classic fantasy filmmaker Ray Harryhausen in scenes involving the imposing centaur-like spidermonkey and an equally formidable slizzard. In addition, a crew of animated skeletons, some of which duel with Juni Cortez in a Jason and the Argonauts pastiche, offer that and more original, interesting antics. Clever references to Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park can also be spotted. Rodriguez manages to painlessly include his edifying subtexts celebrating the centrality of family togetherness; the way simple things like a rubber band can be more helpful than the latest nanotechnology; and the importance of maintaining a sharp mind and keeping your wits about you in the face of unreliable devices - and even waxes philosophical when Dr. Romero, hiding from the monsters he made, ponders, "Do you think God stays in heaven because he's afraid of what he has created?"

Spy Kids 2, while maintaining much of the wit and charm of its predecessor, disappoints a bit by being so crammed with new characters, new gizmos galore and frantic-pacing, the delightful grandparent and parent spy couples get not nearly enough screen time; ditto for Machete, Uncle Felix and Fegan Floop. Rodriguez's fecund imagination piles on so many gadgets and cuts so quickly from scene to scene that the engaging characters frequently get overwhelmed. Despite this, the movie possesses many virtues besides the ones already mentioned: dazzling SPFX that recapture the odd appeal of good, old-fashioned, laborious, stop-motion animation; snazzy costumes; lovely music; that refreshingly pervasive Latin flavor; great scenes and outtakes during the end credits; and ingeniously funny concepts for many of the innumerable thingamabobs (especially Ralph the robot-like AI miniature bugging device and all-purpose personal helper shaped like a large beetle). This sequel film does not fail to continue the respect for young ones Rodriguez demonstrates by his earnest yet light-hearted depiction of the universal fantasy all children have - to be powerful and cool like the Spy Kids - saving the world with competence equal to if not better than the grown-ups. Flaws aside, Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams can give Austin Powers and James Bond a run for their money while many of us just might find some of our dreams there, waiting to enchant and thrill and simultaneously tickle the funny bone.

sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes) 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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