Film Reviews: Wednesday, August 8, 2002
Giggles and Guffaws

The family that spies together returns for a sequel in Spy Kids 2.


There are Hollywood filmmakers who make better movies for kids than Robert Rodriguez, but there aren’t any as extravagantly weird as he is. Other filmmakers might dream up a guy with four heads for a villain, but only Rodriguez would have the guy’s four heads smooshed on top of each other instead of side by side. His world is so bizarre that it loses very little of its novelty value in Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, the sequel to his surprise hit from last year.

The movie continues the adventures of the Cortez siblings, Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara). They’re now experienced agents in the spy organization where their parents Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino) work. The plot turns on a device that can shut down the world’s electrical appliances. A rogue agent in their organization is after it, so Carmen and Juni have to get to it before he does. To do that, they have to locate a lost island populated by a mad scientist (Steve Buscemi) and the strange beasts he’s created.

In what proves to be a brilliant touch, the Cortez kids are displaced as top agents by a much snottier brother-sister duo, Gary (Matthew O’Leary) and Gerti Giggles (Emily Osment, who bears a truly disturbing resemblance to her brother Haley Joel). The Giggleses get involved in the chase for the device, and the competitiveness between the two pairs of siblings gives the movie the proper dose of nastiness. Carmen’s crush on Gary complicates the rivalry to humorous effect — when Juni points out what a jerk Gary is, Carmen’s starry-eyed response is, “I can change him!”

Alexa Vega looks much more assured in this movie than in the original, though it’s too bad Daryl Sabara hasn’t progressed along with her. Movie fans can start a vigorous debate over which of Steve Buscemi’s performances is the weirdest, but they’ll have to consider the one here — he looks completely at home riding the back of a giant lizard while carrying miniature cows and monkeys on his shoulders. Alan Cumming reprises his role from the original for one scene, and he gives the film a stiff shot of energy.

Rodriguez’s weakness is plotting, and it rears its head again here, as his movie has too many plot threads to track. The Giggles siblings are a great addition, but Rodriguez should have stopped before he brought in Gregorio’s disapproving in-laws, who are also super-spies. Despite their potential (and the inspired casting of Ricardo Montalban as Ingrid’s papa), they don’t get enough screen time to contribute much.

Then again, plot becomes a secondary consideration when a movie gives you impossibly dangerous amusement park rides and a highly useful robot insect to watch. The movie was shot on digital video, and the technology has made such huge strides that the sequel looks far superior to the original movie. The creatures are every bit as convincing as the ones in Star Wars: Episode II, but Spy Kids 2 was made for roughly the same money ($38 million) as the original Spy Kids. The message is inspiring: Medium-budget filmmakers are now in a position to challenge the George Lucases of the world. All they need is imagination, a quality Robert Rodriguez has in spades.

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