Rated PG - Running Time: 1:30 - Released 8/7/02

Spy Kids 2 is Robert Rodriguez's follow-up to his dark-horse 2001 feature Spy Kids; reuniting virtually the entire cast of last year's film, it reeks of the kind of upgraded effects and flashy production design that can happen to a sequel when the first film is unexpectedly successful. Perhaps this is why his two young co-stars, Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara, seem all the more ill-equipped to handle their roles: the film surrounding them is so flashy and well-produced, it almost overemphasizes their technical shortcomings. Rodriguez's script is childlike and yet very clever and witty at times, as was the first one; it maintains the lighthearted tone, and the CGI effects and cool spy gadgetry are definitely there.

In the continuing story of diminutive Latin-American spy sibs Carmen and Juni Cortez (Vega, Sabara), their SK1 efforts have made them respected members of the international spy organization O.S.S., but they are soon bested by another pair of siblings in espionage, the openly competitive and snobby Gary and Gerti Giggles (Matt O'Leary, Emily Osment). This occurs in the first scene, when the Giggles kids rescue the president's daughter (Taylor Momsen) from a crazy amusement park ride, resulting in great praise and a plum assignment which the Cortez kids wanted: a trip to the island hideaway of Romero (Steve Buscemi). A kind of mad scientist forced to live with the consequences of his craft, Romero has created a population of strange new hybrid animals like pigs that fly and monkeys with spidery legs, which have taken over his island, forcing him to live in fear in his well-protected underground lair. Although his queer menagerie is quite remarkable, the O.S.S. is really interested in getting ahold of his "transmooker," a flat, round hubcap-looking device capable of destroying the world in some way on which I'm not particularly clear.

Annoyed about the Giggles kids getting the assignment (especially after their dad [Mike Judge] was just promoted to chief of the O.S.S.), the Cortez kids go along undercover and attempt to locate the device themselves. There they meet Romero and his assortment of bizarre animal creations and get in a dangerous power battle with the Giggleses, forcing their spy parents (Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino) and grandparents (Ricardo Montalban, Holland Taylor) to attempt a rescue. Returning for what amounts to little more than cameo appearances are Alan Cumming as eccentric TV show host Fegan Floop, Tony Shalhoub as reformed bad guy Alexander Minion, Danny Trejo as the Cortez' gadget-building uncle, and Cheech Marin as their family friend. Newcomers include Bill Paxton (if you go to get popcorn you'll miss him) as the amusement park owner and Christopher McDonald as the U.S. president.

This film shows what you can achieve by dressing up a couple of so-so actors with expensive scenery and dazzling special effects. While I admit Vega is maturing as an actress, Sabara is surprisingly inadequate at his momentous role. Unable to muster anything in the way of characterization but fake facial expressions, he speaks every line like he has a mouthful of peanut butter. And he's beginning to bear a frightening resemblance to Danny Bonaduce from The Partridge Family years—I'm sorry, I just have a phobia about that. Whatever the reason for my misgivings, I found Spy Kids 2 adequately entertaining but nothing special. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but hey, it's August. ***½

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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