spy kids 2: the island of lost dreams (2002)


director: robert rodriguez

antonio banderas, carla gugino, alexa vega, daryl sabara

The subtitle of Robert Rodriquez’ sequel to his hit film Spy Kids is blandly evocative and less than promising: The Island of Lost Dreams. At the end of this unruly, loud, over-designed and overacted mess, you might wonder if there’s an Island of Lost Directors, and just how desperate Rodriguez is to set up permanent residence there.

Rodriguez revisits the Cortez family, a clan of secret agents, and his heroes - Juni and Carmen Cortez, who became fully-fledged secret agents in his previous film, and have now joined the growing ranks of junior spies recruited, apparently, through nepotism. Like a John Le Carre novel re-written for tweens, there are moles in the agency, and Juni and Carmen (Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega) are set against the regrettably-named Gary and Gertie Giggles, another brother-and-sister pair of spy kids, from the opening scene of the film.

The first Spy Kids film was a huge hit for good reasons - rare among films made explicitly for children, it was bright, fun, well-acted and nicely-paced, the sort of thing that kids and their parents can sit through without resenting each other. With his sequel, Rodriguez seems intent on correcting everything he did right with the first film, jettisoning whatever adult prerogatives he might have had in favour of a garish trainwreck that seems more like a bloated Saturday morning cartoon show than a million-dollar movie.

Where everything seemed to work in the first film, almost nothing does in the second. Sabara and Vega, once charming, are now grating, and their parents, played by Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino, flail about the unwieldy plot like unsecured baggage. The dialogue is so awful that even Steve Buscemi as the mad scientist holed up on the eponymous island seems embarassed by the lines he’s supposed to deliver, his usually impeccable timing utterly off. Clever set and prop design and slick special-effects have given way to gaudy baubles and cheap-looking stunts more suited to on-the-fly sci-fi t.v. shows like "Lexx".

Robert Rodriguez’ career has followed a depressing trajectory. His clever and enjoyable super-low budget debut, El Mariachi, was followed by a charmless big-budget remake, Desperado, and after that by From Dusk Till Dawn, his gruesome and unwatchable horror collaboration with Quentin Tarantino. He’d almost been written off when he made Spy Kids, reinventing himself through a simple wish to make a movie he could show his kids. With the sequel, he’s made a film that could have been made by kids, and that’s not meant as praise.