More creative energy unbound than actual storytelling, “Spy Kids 2” is exactly the kind of movie Robert Rodriguez is known for. Written, directed, shot, and even edited by the former wunderkind behind the fabled “El Mariachi”, “Spy Kids 2” is a movie built around a series of CGI-enhanced set pieces. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that Rodriguez came up with the set pieces before he came up with the actual story, of which there isn’t much to hang one’s hat on. Even for a PG-rated, kid-friendly film, the story of “Spy Kids 2” is at best flimsy, and at worst nonexistent.
Less coherent in narrative than the original, the sequel punches up the action quotient much the same way Stephen Sommers did with “The Mummy Returns”, which was one nonstop action film tied together by a loose story. The premise of “Spy Kids 2” brings back junior superspies (and incidental Mexican-Americans) Carmen (Alexa Vega) and her little brother Juni (Daryl Sabara) for another round of dangerous missions involving silly villains and their even sillier henchmen. This time around the villain is Mike Judge (writer/director of “Office Space” and the creator of “Beavis and Butthead”), who is less convincing (and less silly) than the original’s villain, Alan Cumming (who has a cameo here).
Also back are Antonio Banderas (“Femme Fatale”) and Carla Gugino (“The One”) as Carmen and Juni’s parents; the two are also spies themselves. The film also introduces the grandparents of the spy kids, Richardo Montalban and Holland Taylor, who are also — yep, you guessed it — also spies. Actually, the adults have little to do except bicker and fly around in fancy contraptions looking for the two missing kid spies. Well actually that last statement isn’t fair, because the kids themselves have little to do, since their main reason to exist is for filmmaker Rodriguez to delight us with all the brand new groovy gadgets he’s come up with. Let’s just say that the stuff these kids haul around makes James Bond look like a junk dealer.
Which is to say that much of “Spy Kids 2” reeks of self-indulgence on Rodriguez’s part. There’s no story here, no real movie, just a series of scenes where fancy schmancy gadgets get shown for the “groovy” effect. I guess if you’re a kid you might think them neat; I thought they were overdone and too obviously CGI. Later in the film, the kids reach a place where their gadgets don’t work, and they have to rely on their brains. Nice little “trust in yourself” theme for the kids, but I started to miss the gadgets.
Surprisingly, the story of “Spy Kids 2” is even flimsier than the story of the other teen spy movie, “Agent Cody Banks”. Then again, does anyone care? Like the original, this sequel doesn’t bother with being serious for a single nanosecond. It’s all about playing it goofy and loose, and I suppose that’s how everyone should go into the film. It’s not lighthearted fun, it’s cheesy and unimportant fun.
Of note is Steve Buscemi (“Ghost World”) who shows up as a Mad Scientist type living on the island of the subtitle. It’s Buscemi’s creation, a cloaking device, that Mike Judge’s character seeks. The movie also introduces the world of kiddie spies, including a scene where all the spy kids and their parents attend an important banquet, which is really the movie’s outstanding sequence. Matthew O’Leary and Emily Osment also join the cast as another pair of sibling spies, and it’s probably not a coincidence that they’re both very Caucasian.
Like a lot of Rodriguez’s movies, “Spy Kids 2” feels a bit choppy. There’s no smooth flow, and sometimes the quick cuts and manic vibe is a bit much. Then again, Rodriguez hasn’t changed his style since “El Mariachi”, and I doubt he ever will. This is Rodriguez in a nutshell. All style and coolness, but very little substance to be found.
Robert Rodriguez (director)
CAST: Antonio Banderas …. Gregorio Cortez
Carla Gugino …. Ingrid Cortez
Alexa Vega …. Carmen Cortez
Daryl Sabara …. Juni Cortez
Steve Buscemi …. Dr. Romero
Mike Judge …. Donnagon Giggles