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The Movie:

(movie review written 8/02)

Early in 2001, I walked into director Robert Rodriguez's "Spy Kids". The film cheered me up, providing remarkable entertainment while I was fighting a nasty cold. The film, which was visually inspired, imaginative and cheery, was a delightful comic book of a movie with energy to spare. What was most impressive was that Rodriguez was able to accomplish a film complete with exceptional set design and fine visual effects for around $30 million dollars. Somehow, Rodriguez has been able to make a bigger looking film a year later on about the same budget. While not always quite as consistently snappy as the original, the sequel still offers some flashes of brilliance and a lot of moments of fun, fast action.

The film's opening is one of those instances. The sequel opens with the president's daughter (Taylor Momsen, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas") visiting a theme park, whose owner (a nice little cameo from Bill Paxton) gives her a tour of the rides, such as one that literally juggles the containers that the riders sit in. When she traps herself on one of the rides in an attempt to get attention from her father, the Spy Kids, Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Carmen (Alexa Vega) come to the rescue. Only this time, they actually have competition - Gary and Gerti Giggles (Matt O'Leary & Emily Osment). All four learn of a new weapon, one which could shut down all of the electrical power in the world.


After said device is stolen, the kids find themselves trying to compete to get a new mission which will take them to a lost island where giant mutated creatures (such as a "Spider-Monkey") roam freely. Of course, after a little trick, the other two Spy Kids are right behind them.

As with the first film, the performances are generally quite excellent. Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara were real gems in the first picture and they're excellent once again here, very believably playing brother and sister. There's not as much bickering between the two, which leads to a little less comedy, but there's still a few moments and a nice message of siblings having to look out for one another. Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino, less visible this time around, still have a few decent moments, especially Banderas, who is very funny at times.

The addition of Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor as grandparents and former ace spies is a nice touch, although they really don't have a great deal of purpose here. Alan Cumming and Tony Shalhoub, both wonderfully funny in this original, only make a brief appearance in the sequel. Steve Buscemi has a great performance as a mad scientist hiding out from the creatures who've taken over his island.


As with the first picture, Rodriguez has taken on several roles in this production. This time, the director is also credited as the writer, producer and co-composer. He's also reportedly at least partially responsible for the visual effects, production design and more. The first film's visual effects style is carried over for the sequel, as well. Although there are a fair amount of slick visuals in the opening 30-45 minutes, a plot twist takes away the gadget power. Although a bit of computer-generated visuals occasionally pop-up, Rodriguez puts together some visual effects that seem inspired by Ray Harryhausen (and more recently, by Sam Raimi's "Army Of Darkness"), including some stop-motion skeletons. Although not all of the visual effects are seamless, as with the first film, they nicely walk the line between slick and primitive and manage to be sort of charming and have more personality.

The sequel also offers a nice message: while the first film lightly reinforced the importance of family, this one manages to fit in discussions of teamwork, family and siblings having to look out for one another. As I said before, I didn't find it quite as consistently lively and funny as the first one, but it's a very close runner-up that still provides a fast and highly entertaining adventure that both children and adults should enjoy. I was definitely looking forward to this sequel and now am certainly anticipating the next "Spy Kids" picture, already scheduled for next Summer.




The DVD

VIDEO: "Spy Kids 2" is presented by Miramax in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Shot in digital video, "Spy Kids 2" did appear a bit murky on the big screen, but the DVD does look noticably better than the theatrical presentation that I viewed. Most noticably, colors appeared brighter, richer and a bit more vivid on this DVD then they did on the presentation I saw theatrically. Sharpness and detail were perfectly fine, as the picture boasted a crisp and well-defined appearance throughout the entire show.

Flaws were hardly an issue throughout the program. Given that this is probably a digital transfer, the presentation doesn't show anything in the way of print flaws. Some slight compression artifacts and instances of edge enhancement appeared, but these issues were hardly distracting.

SOUND: "Spy Kids 2" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 by Miramax. This is generally a very enjoyable soundtrack, although I occasionally felt it could have been even a bit more aggressive, given the material. The score, by director Robert Rodriguez and John Debney, is mainly delivered by the front speakers, with only a bit of reinforcement from the surrounds. The surrounds also deliver some fun and creative sound effects during the action sequences. Although stretches of the movie are fairly front-focused, at least sound quality is pleasant, as the audio remains crisp and dynamic throughout, with clear dialogue and punchy sound effects.

EXTRAS:

Commentary: This is a commentary from director/nearly everything else Robert Rodriguez. Some commentaries are called "screen-specific", some are "scene-specific". Rodriguez's commentary, essentially, is "non-stop". The track opens with the director discussing how this second film is larger tha the first film, which many more visual effects, yet it cost the same amount of money. Throughout the entire 100 minutes, Rodriguez provides an amazing discussion of how he and his crew went about creating a bigger movie in an efficent and effective way, production stories and difficulties and how Rodriguez is able to - and enjoys - doing several different jobs on every production. What's amazing is that, with the wealth of information offered, the director's comments still remain organized. As with the director's previous commentaries for "El Mariachi" and "Desperado" (on the dual-film SE), this is a fantastic commentary that goes into exceptional detail on just about every element.

Ten Minute Film School: A feature that has been included on the director's "El Mariachi"/"Desperado" SE, this is an enjoyable, quick overview of how the director was able to produce this film on a very reasonable budget. In this case, we watch clips of the actors on the set in front of green-screens and the director at work. Rodriguez provides narration for the entire piece, leading us through the steps of how several of the scenes were produced, as well as how the director creatively took steps to cut a remarkable amount of cost out of the budget.

Lost Scenes: Eight scenes are included, with optional commentary from the director. Some of these moments are interesting, but there's nothing that I'd consider worth putting back in.

A New Kind of Stunt Kid: A very amusing little piece, this featurette has the stunt coordinator talking about some of the work that the kid actors did. Additionally, the lead actors get to discuss their favorite moments of stunt work during the production.

Behind-The-Scenes Montages: These are short pieces that offer basic, on-set clips of the actors and crew at work: "Costa Rica", "Cliff Stunt", "Inflate-a-Suit", "Spy Gala", "Theme Park", and "Romero's Hideaway".

School @ Big Bend National Park: This short featurette shows the actors from the movie going on a tour of Big Bend National Park. Not something to be watched more than once, but informative and enjoyable, nonetheless.

Also: 20-minute promotional documentary, "A Day in the Life of the Spy Kids"; "Essential Gear" featurette; interative game; teaser trailer (non-anamorphic 1.85:1/2.0 audio); sneak peek trailers for other Disney titles; music video; still gallery; art gallery; DVD-ROM features (weblinks).

Final Thoughts: While it doesn't quite reach the heights of the original, "Spy Kids 2" still offered an entertaining journey, with plenty of inspired gags and fun gadgets. Miramax's DVD offers very good audio/video, as well as quite a few supplements. Recommended.





Film Grade
The Film ***
DVD Grades
Video 92/A
Audio: 91/A
Extras: 85/B


DVD Information




Spy Kids 2
Miramax Home Entertainment
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English/Spanish/French)
Subtitles: English
1.85:1
Dual Layer:Yes
Rated:PG
100 minutes
Anamorphic:Yes
Region:1
Available At Amazon.com: Spy Kids 2 DVD, Spy Kids DVD, Desperado/El Mariachi DVD Set