With the arrival of Spy Kids 2 potentially heralding the institution of a new “James Bondian” franchise for kids, what I’ve actually found most appalling in the whole affair is not how much Rodriguez’s standards have plummeted in the course of a single year, but how much the critics’ standards have. It’s mystifying to discover intelligent commentators like Kenneth Turan so famished for entertainment as to hail this insipid video game as an “imaginative, smart” and ultimately worthy successor to 2001’s boisterously brilliant comic spellbinder. Have they actually seen the film they seem to describe, or can they even dimly recall the charm and imagination of its predecessor enough to gauge how far short of the mark it’s really arrived?

One of the new film’s particularly harrowing sight gags happens to illustrate my point superbly: as two rival spy kids in transit to their mission suffer an unexpected landing in the middle of a remote desert, they soon find themselves hopelessly immersed in a fresh, steaming mound of camel feces, a few very convincingly lifelike lumps of which must be immediately evacuated from one character’s mouth. Sitting there, observing the remaining half of the picture with these two kids invariably caked in dry excrement, I was compelled to ask myself, “Am I watching Spy Kids 2 or The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover?” Certainly we’ve seen worse than this, but have American audiences grown so desensitized to tasteless cinematic scatology as to be able to dismiss such a nauseating spectacle with little more than a careless shrug?

I for one recall from the first Spy Kids only a few benign traces of the elevated toilet humor exhibited here, but what I now find missing is the adult wit and gleeful ingenuity that catapulted Rodriguez’s vision into a transcendent new realm of auteurist family entertainment that was previously almost unheard of. Certainly, the same old self-satisfied, tongue-in-cheek exuberance remains in full view, with a number of deliciously goofy cameos from the likes of Ricardo Montalban and Steve Buscemi available to liven up the increasingly wearisome presence of our leads Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara (both finally proving that their offhanded anti-professionalism can indeed overstay its welcome beyond a single feature), but many of these poker-faced star departures, even the one delivered by our irrepressible Antonio Banderas, feel strained and lost and completely out of sync with one another, utterly devoid of comic timing. In fact, the entire feature plays as a sort of complacently half-assed prolongation of everything one could’ve possibly enjoyed about the premise twelve months ago. The editing in particular smacks of an overnight job managed on Adobe Premiere, and even if you don’t consciously notice it, you’ll at least sense the cheapening effect of a filmmaker laboring to mask his lack of proper photographic coverage by cutting back and forth between shots during inopportune beats of a conversation. The sloppy haste in which this perfunctory roller-coaster ride has all been tacked together remains painfully apparent even up to the astonishingly unfunny outtakes Rodriguez dishes up for dessert.

So for all the cute flourishes I treasured in this production (the acrobatic exploits of a small robot named R.A.L.P.H.; a savvy send-up of insanely vertiginous amusement-park rides; Christopher McDonald’s hysterical proclamation, “We’re doomed!” directed straight into Rodriguez’s camera), I ultimately found myself inundated by the film’s proliferation of gaudy CGI, which this time takes precedence over story and creativity to overwhelm this generally distant and mind-numbing toy contraption with a sense of joyless artifice. The picture stands as little more than the typical underwhelming sequel atypically overrated by undernourished filmgoers.

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams

review by

André de Alencar Lyon

Robert Rodriguez

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