The pint-sized secret agents are back in "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams". After the modestly budgeted "Spy Kids" became a surprise box office hit in the summer of 2001, Miramax's Dimension Films fast-tracked a sequel. Thankfully, writer/director/producer/editor/composer/special effects supervisor Robert Rodriguez (the king of low-budget genre filmmaking, having made a name for himself with features such as "El Mariachi", "Desperado", and "From Dusk Till Dawn") had some ideas that he wasn't able to fit into the first film. This made writing the second script a breeze and allowed him to complete the sequel within a year... and what a sequel it is. Despite some issues with pacing and incongruous sentimentality that is thrown in, "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams" greatly expands on the ideas introduced in the first film, creating yet another film that allows this critic to use the words 'kick-ass' and 'family film' in the same sentence and mean it.
At the start of "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams", a number of things have changed since the last time we saw Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara). After their successful rescue mission of spy parents Gregorio (Antonio Banderas of "Original Sin") and Ingrid Cortez (Carla Gugino of "The One"), the use of juvenile espionage agents has become institutionalized with an official 'Spy Kids' program in place. Unfortunately, this means that Carmen and Juni now have to compete against other spy kids, particularly another brother-and-sister team, Gary (Matthew O'Leary of "Domestic Disturbance") and Gerti Giggles (Emily Osment, sister of Haley Joel).
After being shamed by the Giggles during a botched rescue attempt of the President's daughter (Taylor Momsen of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"), Carmen and Juni see a chance to redeem themselves by retrieving the mysterious 'Transmooger Device', an artifact that could potentially destroy the world if it fell into the wrong hands. Their search for the Transmooger takes them to a mysterious island off the coast of Madagascar, the home of mad scientist Dr. Romero (Steve Buscemi, heard recently in "Monsters, Inc."). Unfortunately, Gary and Gerti are on their trail, hoping to get the glory for themselves. And even more troubling is that they may be in the employ of elements within OSS which have nefarious plans for the Transmooger Device.
Like the first film, "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams" continues with the light-hearted spoofing of action movies (check out the nod to "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring"), particularly the spy genre. However, to keep the sequel fresh, Rodriguez does a number of smart things with this second go-around by building on what he established in the first film while adding a few new wrinkles. In addition to the new conflicts for Carmen and Juni raised by the presence of rival agents Gary and Gerti, parents Gregorio and Ingrid have new nemeses as well-- the in-laws. In a bit of inspired casting, Star Trek's 'Khan' Ricardo Montalban plays Ingrid's disapproving father, who is also a legendary super-spy along with his wife (Holland Taylor of "Legally Blonde"). And while neat gadgets remain a mainstay in this latest entry, a new twist is added when the spy kids find that all electronic devices, including their gadgets, no longer function on the mysterious island, requiring them to actually use their brains for once (which, of course, sucks). Finally, the special effects are also more elaborate this time around, with all manners of strange creatures on the island being brought to life by CGI, including a nod to Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animation work from 1963's "Jason and the Argonauts".
In addition to the returning main cast, a number of supporting characters return in "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams". Danny Trejo returns as Uncle Izzy 'Machete' Cortez to provide the spy kids with new gadgets, "Beavis and Butthead" creator Mike Judge and Rodriguez regular Cheech Marin reprise their roles as fellow agents Donnagon and Felix Gumm, albeit with more sinister motives this time around, while Alan Cumming makes a brief appearance as reformed villain and children's show host Fegan Floop.
If there are any complaints to be made about "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams", it would be that the film feels a little long, even with a running time of just under 100 minutes. This is mainly due to a number of indulgences that Rodriguez takes along the way in terms of gags that don't quite work or trying to give his characters too many neat things to do-- the film could have easily been tightened up by fifteen minutes or so. In addition, Rodriguez tries to insert moments of sentimentality to convey the theme of family, as borne by the extended spy family presented in this installment-- unfortunately, these bits are awkwardly inserted and disrupt the flow of the film.
Despite these issues, the "Kids" are alright. "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams" is a fun family film that will delight the little ones while providing adults with some pint-sized spectacle and popcorn thrills. And in case you can't get enough of the Cortezes and their espionage antics, fear not-- "Spy Kids 3" is already on its way.