Wednesday, August 07, 2002

The kids are up to even more tricks

Movie review

By Margaret A. McGurk,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Oh, those crazy Spy Kids.

        Their high-energy debut was one of the few happy surprises on last year's movie slate. The follow-up, while even more packed with energy and visual flash, is not quite the delight that the original was.

        In their first film, crime-busting pre-teens Carmen and Juni Cortez (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) followed their secret-agent parents Gregorio and Ingrid (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) into the spy business on not much more than gumption and gadgets.

        In Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, their lives are more complicated.

        Back on the job — this time through an official kid arm of their parents' spy agency — the brother-sister team is neck-deep in technology and office politics.

        They face rivals for plum assignments, Gary and Gerti Giggles (Matthew O'Leary and Emily Osment, sister of Haley Joel), whose father Donnagon (Mike Judge) is also angling to steal the top agency job from Gregorio.

        To prove themselves anew, they take off on a mission to unlock the mystery of a hidden island, where - horrors! - the gadgets don't work. The only other human occupant is a misguided scientist named Romero (Steve Buscemi), who has become a prisoner of his own bizarre creations.

        Soon enough, mom, dad, rivals, even grandparents, are on the island too, for a showdown with Romero's scary cross-bred creatures.

        It's all great fun, and moves at a dizzying pace typical for writer-director Robert Rodriguez. He does slow the action enough to hint at the kids' emerging adolescence; each has a crush on somebody.

        Mr. Rodriguez also has fun with casting, bringing in Mr. Judge, Ricardo Montalban as Ingrid's father, and Bill Paxton as the owner of an amusement park on hyper-drive.

        High-gloss special effects deliver a barrage of technical trickery that sometimes overwhelms the action, though the second half of the movie cuts a respectful swath of time for the creatures deliberately designed to echo the fantasy beasts of the great Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts).

        Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, three stars, (PG; action sequences, brief rude humor) Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez. 100 minutes. AMC 20, Great Escape 14, National Amusements.



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