Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Matthew O'Leary, Emily Osment, Mike Judge, Steve Buscemi

MPAA Rating:  (for action sequences and brief crude humor)

Running Time: 1:40

Release Date: 8/7/02

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams fills two voids: a sequel that’s as good as the original and a worthwhile family film. The movie accomplishes both by retaining the elements that made the original successful while expanding on them enough to make it more than a redundant retread. The two films work, I believe, because the concept appeals to such a wide audience. This is not just a kid’s movie with lowbrow humor substituting for entertainment but an imaginative confection where kids can see their fantasies lived out and adults can revel that the filmmakers have actually thought about them. Despite the original’s solid showing at the box office, the sequel was made with a similar small budget. As a result, the charm of the first movie is still there, and the story feels like the logical, unforced continuation of the careers of a pair of spy kids.

Spy Kids is now a prominent and important organization in handling dangerous and mysterious situations across the globe. Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara) are the most reliable, trusted, and seasoned agents, mostly because of their previous experience rescuing their spy parents, Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino). The movie starts with the President’s daughter (Taylor Momsen) attending an amusement park full of rides that most people couldn’t be paid to go on. In an act of desperation to gain the notice of her inattentive father, the young girl traps herself on top of a ride and holds in her possession the mysterious Transmooger device. Carmen and Juni are called in and rescue the troubled child, but two other agents Gary (Matthew O’Leary) and Gerti Giggles (Emily Osment, sister of Haley Joel) are credited with the save. Soon the Transmooger is stolen by a strange army of metal-helmeted soldiers, Juni is suspended, and Carmen and her brother break protocol and take matters into their own hands, finding themselves on a remote and uncharted island where all electronics are useless.

The original Spy Kids took some time before slipping into its creative groove, but the sequel manages to entice right from the start. The opening sequence in the theme park seems to set the stage for the rest of the plot. We assume the park and its owner (an amusing Bill Paxton) will somehow display some villainous properties and that the story will involve them, but the scene is merely a teaser. A lot of action sequences follow, and again writer/director Robert Rodriguez (who also tackled many other roles in the making of the film, including editor and cinematographer) manages to elicit the humor inherent to the entire situation—kids are just plain funny doing these kinds of things. The amount of violence in the movie is lessened and the quality is more far-fetched. Eventually the joke wears a little thin and the imaginative elements begin to dissipate, and the movie itself starts to slow down. By the time it does, though, the film is already riding high on its previous moments of inspiration, so it hardly matters.

Despite the relatively small budget, digital effects are used abundantly and have an unrefined appeal. The edges are very rough; we know they’re special effects. For this reason, they work. We aren’t supposed to believe them; they suit the material just fine. One sequence in which a room full of Spy Kids fights the group of metal-headed robbers has the kids using a wide array of gadgets. We see kids flying with jet-powered shoes—helicopter pigtails for the girls—and otherwise defying any and all physical laws, and we simply accept it because it’s fun. The movie has no qualms about its economical effects. In fact, it seems to indulge in them. The island Carmen and Juni find themselves on is occupied by a throng of genetic mutations—species crossbred with other species—created by a good-intentioned scientist played by, of all the strange character actors out there, Steve Buscemi. The creatures are digital, but they seem inspired by the monsters created through the technique of stop-motion animation. A mob of sword-fighting skeletons seems lifted directly from Jason and the Argonauts.

The theme of family is as prevalent as it was in the original, especially in the finale which brings three generations of spies together. It’s a good message made even more meaningful because these characters are starting to grow on us. Spy Kids 2 leaves room open for another sequel, but I found myself wondering and kind of caring about what will happen to these people. If that isn’t evidence of a solid, worthwhile film franchise, I don’t know what is.

Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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