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"Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams"

Directed by Robert Rodriguez.
Written by Robert Rodriguez. 
Starring Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega and Mike Judge.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  8/1/02 


Last week, my friend Max and I caught a press screening of the new film “Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams.”

I went to see this a) because I like the word “free”, and b) because I liked the “Spy Kids” original and wanted to see what writer/director Robert Rodriguez (“Desperado” plus the original “Spy Kids”) would come up with.

Well, a) worked out well, but b) was a bit disappointing.  This time around, the Spy Kids—Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Carmen (Alexa Vega) are a year older and much more experienced in the ways of saving the much so that there is a whole government arm of the Secret Service now which is full of other Spy Kid operatives.  The new head of the OSS (that agency) is Donnagon Giggles (Mike Judge), and upon this promotion he promotes his two kids, Gary and Gerti, to top Spy Kid status and sends them on a mission to a distant island to retrieve a cloaking device that also happens to have the power to shut down power to everything within a one-mile radius.  Juni and Cortez set off to complete the mission before the Giggles kids can do so.

What made “Spy Kids” so fresh was the idea that these two kids really could be spies in the first place; by having them set off to save their secret-agent parents (here again reprised by Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino), their mission was a novelty, and it was out of love for their family.  Here, the Spy Kids are a business, a corporation that recruits and trains kids to be everything a 14-year-old can be.  This really takes away from the Juni and Carmen characters mostly in terms of screen time—Rodriguez’s decision to split their time between the parents, Judge (best known for writing and directing “Office Space”), and the rival Giggles kids doesn’t leave much at the buffet table with only 90 minutes of movie.

But, the other major way that the kids’ roles are diminished is the absolutely ridiculous number of special effects shots in “Spy Kids 2”—this is getting out of hand.  Sure, the first film had a bunch of these shots.  But, in the sequel’s case, even shots of the kids with a backdrop of a plain blue sky are clearly blue-screened and by the time it was done, it had me thinking “Minority Report” or even “Star Wars” because all of the gadgets and island effects are CGI.  Movies are heading down the wrong path if directors are spending money on shots of kids on a beach for the digital effects lab.  Max was saying to me after the film that he wonders if writers even storyboard any more; you could just skip this step and go right to a digital design studio and just tell them what you are thinking for each shot, and have them do it on a computer for you in a week.  Sad.

This, plus some plot loopholes and a bad case of cameo sequelitis (Ricardo Montalban, Steve Buscemi, Bill Paxton, Danny Trejo, and Cheech Marin all come to “hang out” on set) bring “Spy Kids 2” down.  The film is interesting at times, and as it was shot using digital cameras, seeing “Spy Kids 2” on a digital projector is pretty sweet.  But, what made “Spy Kids” so cool has made its sequel a spy cliché...if this films makes big money—and, I would be surprised if it does not—expect another sequel in 2004; Banderas and Rodriguez are busy now, shooting the “Desperado” sequel as I write.

Overall, this one is disappointing.  But, check out the original if you have the chance...not a bad film for any age group.

Rating:  Rental


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09