Though Robert Rodriguez wisely and admirably puts a boy and a girl front and center in his Spy Kids franchise, Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams is--at heart--a boy's playground romp digitally rendered and blown-up to big-screen proportions. With turbo-charged vehicles, superheroic action, and Ray Harryhausen-inspired creature duels, writer-producer-editor-director(-and so on...) Rodriguez rockets through his sequel's eye-popping, kid's-wish-fulfillment settings with a speed that almost masks the film's strenuous effort to recapture the original film's confident narrative style.
Spy Kids 2 takes us inside-out from the workings of the spy organization O.S.S., detailing the office politics that rob father Antonio Banderas of a promotion. Mother Carla Gugino reminds the kids--Carmen (Alexa Vega) and younger brother Juni (Daryl Sabara)--that Dad will need a hug whether he gets his promotion or not, but domestic support is pre-empted by an evil raid that cleverly dispatches the parents and leaves an army of Spy Kids to kick some butt. Before long, Carmen and Juni leap-frog rival kid agents Gary and Gertie Giggles to the Island of Dr. Romero to solve the mystery of who wants the new Transmooker invention and why. As Romero, Buscemi amusingly dishes out self-aware mad-scientist cheese.
Though the acting of the likeable leading kids has lost a bit of its purity, Rodriguez remembers what I do about watching films as a kid: that kids can tell the difference between passable actors and unusually memorable ones. Actors like Gugino, Banderas, Buscemi, Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Christopher McDonald, and Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor as the kids' grandparents radiate craftsmanship and their joy in cutting loose with the playful material.
Rodriguez also doesn't forget his responsibility to impart a message along with the cool trappings of the story; he's even willing to undermine the holy gadgetry essential to the film's appeal in favor of basic human resourcefulness. It's to Rodriguez's everlasting credit that he can, in a single live-action children's film, produce rip-roaring action, leave dried camel poop all over two normally well-scrubbed kids for most of the film's running time, and allow Buscemi's character to earnestly ask the heroes, with a straight face, about the nature and purpose of God. Bring on Spy Kids 3.