Spy Kids 2: The Island Of Lost Dreams
Ten years after his El Mariachi squeezed every cent from a $7,000 budget, director Robert Rodriguez still makes movies like a kid with a toybox, passing his lazy afternoons with backyard fantasies fueled by invention and resourcefulness. Even as the toybox has gotten bigger, Rodriguez continues to unpack more than it seems to contain: One of the chief pleasures of his surprise hit Spy Kids was how it recast James Bond as a blue-light special for children, providing Bond-esque thrills by cutting corners on special effects. Barely a year later, with another limited budget and a potential franchise on his hands, Rodriguez brings a lot of silly, invigorating brio to Spy Kids 2: The Island Of Lost Dreams, the rare sequel that magnifies the scope of the original without diminishing the fun. Once again, Rodriguez seems uniquely attuned to the sugar-addled mind of a 10-year-old boy, yet he fills out his vision with charmingly personal touches, including inspired bits of stunt casting and a few clever nods to matinee staples. Still too precocious and grating by half, Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara seem a little more assured in their roles as the gifted young children of secret agents Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino. Armed with a new set of high-tech gadgets, Vega and Sabara lead a new Spy Kids division for pint-sized super-agents, but they get some competition from a bratty brother-sister team (Matt O'Leary and Emily Osment) with designs on the top assignments. On a mission to retrieve a stolen "transmooker," a top-secret device that wipes out all technology within a certain radius, both pairs head toward an uncharted and mysteriously elusive island. Acting like a cross between a half-crazed Dr. Moreau and Professor Frink on The Simpsons, Steve Buscemi gives an inspired comic turn as the island's sole inhabitant, a scientist whose dream of creating miniature zoos for children has backfired in a mishmash of genetics and growth serum. Opening with a demented Bill Paxton leading a tour of his Troublemaker Theme Parkfeaturing The Whippersnapper, The Juggler, and other rides "as fast as the U.S. government will allow"Spy Kids 2 puts a premium on speed, playing to an audience with a hummingbird's attention span. Rodriguez stuffs the frame with high-tech gadgets, wall-to-wall CGI effects, star cameos, and clever movie references, and the caffeinated pace can get a little wearying. Still, since most sequels run out of ideas, it's an odd virtue that Rodriguez has too many.