Now that they've saved the world from a ruthless madman (Tony Shalhoub, reprising his role here), and helped save their parents, Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino, "Snake Eyes") from certain death, the Spy Kids, Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Carmen (Alexa Vega), have risen to the top rank of child spies. When a mysterious island is the source of some very strange happenings at home, Agent Donnagan (Mike Judge, "Office Space") sends in Carmen and Juni's direct competition, Gary (Matt O'Leary, "Frailty") and Gertie (Emily Osment, looking like brother Haley Joel in drag), to save the day. Feeling snubbed, Carmen and Juni travel to the "island of lost dreams" on their own and discover a mad scientist (Steve Buscemi) hiding there, afraid to walk outside due to all the hideous beasts that roam the landscape. When Carmen and Juni's unauthorized trip is discovered by Gregorio and Ingrid, they take off to save them, with Grandma (Holland Taylor) and Grandpa (Ricardo Montalban) Cortez in tow.
I liked "Spy Kids 2" (IMDb listing), but I wished for it to be better. While the first installment, 2001's "Spy Kids," was more fast and furious than any family film within blast radius, this new film feels...well, it feels like a sequel. That's not an entirely bad thing, but I was so impressed with how well crafted and written "Spy Kids" was, that what director Robert Rodriguez ("Desperado," "From Dusk Till Dawn") serves up for seconds feels rushed and not as clearly thought out.
Part of the charm that flowed with alarming ease in "Spy Kids" was the discovery. The audience went along with Carmen and Juni as they slowly uncovered their parents' role as top government agents, and realized that it was going to change their own lives forever. With "Spy Kids 2," that feeling is gone, and unfortunately replaced with very little. The film opens with the two siblings already at the top of their game, thus losing a crucial piece of magic that might've helped "Spy Kids 2" rival the electrifying original.
Even with flaws, I wouldn't want anyone else directing family films beside Rodriguez. His instincts about what makes a film aimed at the pre-teen set work is amazing, cutting through all the schmaltz and bottom-feeding humor that wastes such large amounts of time in lesser films. Rodriguez has a vision for "Spy Kids 2," and the sheer scope of it is quite impressive. Mixing James Bond, Indiana Jones (look fast in the treasure room for a familiar idol), and a little T-NBC (Carmen is a little boy crazy this time out), Rodriguez does a sturdy job updating the adventures for this new installment both visually and emotionally. Even when he fails to ignite the spark to "Spy Kids 2," he does a terrific job filling up the screen with delights and wonders.
As in "Spy Kids," the sequel is effects-heavy. Working with a smaller-than-average budget, Rodriguez gets the most bang for his buck, with almost every frame in this film featuring a special effect. They aren't all successful, but the sheer number of effects pays off more often than not. I especially like the opening of the film, featuring the President's daughter visiting a theme park where the rides are taken to the gravity-defying limit. Rodriguez has a gigantic imagination, and the special effects "Spy Kids 2" reflect a director who wants to pack everything in.
Also delightful is the Ray Harryhausen-influenced creatures of the island. Recalling the heyday of the stop-motion animation pioneer ("Jason And The Argonauts," "Clash Of The Titans"), Rodriguez can barely contain his glee when it comes to these creatures, ranging from sea serpents to a pack of sword-wielding skeletons.
There are many more goodies tucked within "Spy Kids 2," including a silly Antonio Banderas (I wouldn't want him any other way) and a glorious appearance by the indispensable Ricardo Montelban. But "Spy Kids 2" cannot replicate the enchantment achieved by the original.
Filmfodder Grade: B