Latest Spy Kids continues the goofy fun
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams
Now playing at Granville Seven
Reviewed by Peter T. Chattaway
It may suffer a bit from an overabundance of wacky ideas and colourful supporting characters, but Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams serves up more of the same inspired silliness that made the original Spy Kids such a hoot. Populated by quirky robots and bizarre, quasi-mythical creatures, these films are not just James Bond spoofs for children; they are wildly imaginative fantasies that delight in their genre-mixing sense of play, like the stories children make up when they put their toy soldiers, toy sports cars, and toy dinosaurs together. Writer-director Robert Rodriguez-who also edited the film and composed some of the music-says he turned to his own children for ideas, and watching this film, you believe him.
The film begins, appropriately, in a theme park filled with absurdly dangerous rides, including one called the Vomiter; the park's owner (Bill Paxton), who is taking the daughter of the American president on a tour of the rides, pulls out an umbrella while standing close to this one. The president's daughter, Alexandra (Taylor Momsen), tries one of the other rides instead, but she jams the mechanism and walks out onto a high ledge in a bid for attention, pouting that her father does not spend enough time with her. To rescue her, the Secret Service calls in our heroes: Carmen Cortez (Alexa Vega) and her kid brother Juni (Daryl Sabara), high-level members of a new federal agency for spy children. But the Service also calls in another pair of siblings as back-up, and while it is Juni who persuades Alexandra to come back down with him, it is Gary and Gerti Giggles (Frailty's Matthew O'Leary and Emily Osment, sister of Haley Joel) who get the credit for saving her.
The rivalry between the children is echoed in the rivalry between their parents; Gary and Gerti's father, Donnagon (Beavis & Butthead creator Mike Judge), is made head of the new agency, even though we feel pretty sure the job should have gone to Carmen and Juni's father, Gregorio (Antonio Banderas), instead. The formal dinner at which Donnagon receives his new job is full of amusing moments, like when Alexandra dances by herself and the Secret Service agents, who are standing in a protective circle around her, shuffle left and right to accomodate her steps. The dinner is interrupted by enemy agents with magnetic helmets who steal a device from the president and are yanked up into the air by a giant magnetic saucer, which leaves them dangling beneath it as it flies away. When we see the men disembark later on, they rub their sore necks.
Carmen and Juni set out to retrieve the stolen device, called a Transmooger, and their search takes them to a volcanic island populated by flying pigs, sea serpents with heads at both ends, and other strange, hybrid animals that a scientist living on the island (Steve Buscemi) created by accident; there, among other things, the kids also do battle with sword-fighting skeletons. It's like something out of King Kong or a Ray Harryhausen flick, with a pinch of Terry Gilliam thrown in. The kids are followed to the island by their arch-rivals Gary and Gerti, whose father may have evil plans for the Transmooger device; and they are also pursued by their own concerned parents, Gregorio and Ingrid (Carlo Gugino), who have to put up with the backseat driving of Ingrid's father (Ricardo Montalban) and mother (Holland Taylor).
The grandparents are experienced spies, too, of course-espionage runs in this family-and the frustration Gregorio feels at the nagging interference of his in-laws echoes the frustration Carmen and Juni feel as their parents meddle in their own little adventure. Similarly, the jealousy Gregorio feels over Donnagon's promotion echoes the competition between their respective sets of children. If the Spy Kids franchise gets much of its humour from seeing children act like grown-ups, scenes like these show how adults often vent their inner children, too. Thank goodness Rodriguez is still in touch with his own inner child, and that the results are as fun and strangely entertaining as they are.