THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


One of my favorite movies of last year was Spy Kids. Director Robert Rodriguez had already captured my attention with his more adult movies like Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn. It was interesting to watch him bring his creative filmmaking style to a family movie. Actually, what he came up with was so imaginative and fun that it could just as easily be enjoyed by adults as by children. I freely admit looking forward to Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams. Sometimes I roll my eyes at the thought of yet another sequel, but this one appealed to me. I can boil it down very succinctly by saying that Rodriguez has done it again.

The world's smallest secret agents return in Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams
The sequel finds Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara) being upstaged by two other spy kids named Gary and Gerti Giggles. Their father, Donnagol (Mike Judge) has also done a little upstaging, having been appointed head of spy organization OSS over Gregorio (Antonio Banderas). When the Giggle children are given a prime assignment, Carmen and Juni use their computer hacking skills to take control of the mission. They wind up on a mysterious island where a strange scientist named Romero (Steve Buscemi) has unleashed a group of strange creatures - hybrids of already existing animals. He is also in possession of a device that essentially lets him make the island invisible to any and all tracking devices. In other words, it's impossible to tell the place even exists unless you are already there. The government wants this technology, which is why spy kids are being sent in. It doesn't take long for the mission to spiral out of control, leaving Carmen and Juni in need of rescue. Gregorio and Ingrid (Carla Gugino) also make their way to the island. Accompanying them are the spy grandparents (Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor).

What I like about the Spy Kids movies is the sheer imagination they have. Sometimes family films are dumbed down, following predictable half-baked plots that have been done a million times before. Rodriguez seems to delight in doing something different. For instance, he loves coming up with unusual gadgets for the kids to play with. Juni gets a wristwatch that literally does everything except tell time. There's even a device in the kids' underwater submarine that picks Juni's nose for him. I also loved the opening sequence, in which a theme park owner (Bill Paxton) proudly displays his gravity-defying rides specifically designed to make people throw up. One thing you can count on: Rodriguez always has something new up his sleeve.

The movie's plot is actually kind of thin, but that's not the real point. This is wish-fulfillment for kids (or adults, for that matter) who would love to be spies and play with cool gadgets. The action scenes are designed to tap into the audience's deepest sense of fantasy. In one of the more visually creative scenes, Carmen and Juni fly around the island on giant magnets (everything on the island is magnetic powered). There's even an homage to special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen in one sequence in which the kids battle skeletons. It all looks like so much fun that you want to jump into the screen and take your place beside Carmen and Juni.

Everything about Spy Kids 2 is energetic. The effects are great, the humor is funny, and the main characters manage to come across as normal children, even as they save the world. Here's what I wrote in my review of the original: "Every second is joyful; watching it is like being trapped in the world's coolest playground." I feel that way this time, too. These pictures are proof that you can make a sophisticated, enjoyable movie that celebrates the intelligence of children without resorting to fart jokes or crotch injuries. We need more films like this to see with our kids.

( out of four)

Spy Kids 2 is rated PG for action sequences and brief rude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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