(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.