Spy sequel is Double-OK

Aside from its live-action format, what made the first Spy Kids resonate with its audience — in this reviewer’s humble opinion — was the story. Basically a twist on ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances, it focused on the Cortez kids, who had to save their parents when they were revealed to be international spies.

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, like most sequels, is not as good as the first. And like most sequels, it makes the mistake of tipping the scales toward style over substance.

Yet in the hands of Robert Rodriguez, who seems incapable of making a boring movie, the result is still an inventive and exciting, if occasionally mind-numbing, romp.

Spy Kids 2 picks up where the first one left off. The Cortez kids, Juni and Carmen, are now official agents, albeit in the "Spy Kids" division. They suspect something is awry when their dad (Antonio Banderas) is passed up for director in favor of Donegan Giggles (Mike Judge, the creator of Beavis and Butthead), the dad of the kids’ chief rivals, Gary and Gerti Giggles. Eventually, Carmen and Juni find themselves on a mysterious island inhabited by a mad scientist who has created a menagerie of strange animals and a doomsday-type device capable of shutting down everything on the planet.

The art direction is both breathtakingly original and quite clever. The "Spy Kids" division is decorated in early playhouse with lots of reds and yellows. And the sequences on The Island of Lost Dreams recall the best of Ray Harryhausen. There is a genuine sense of wonder.

The adult actors make their major contribution by mostly playing it straight. I defy anyone to stifle a giggle when Ingrid’s (Carla Gugino) parents show up. Rodriguez gets a lot of mileage out of his actors and the situation. Just about every in-law joke is used, but it seems fresh in this context. I won’t reveal the identity of the grandfather, but trust me, it’s a good choice.

Also fun to watch is Steve Buscemi as the mad scientist Romero. As in his more serious roles, the fine character actor can play goofy and sympathetic simultaneously.

Although Rodriguez is very talented, he is not known for subtlety. There are moments you feel your senses are on overload. I’m sure much of that is intentional, because both Spy Kids movies resemble live-action cartoons. That can be a good thing, especially when done with flair and wit, which the films possess. Unfortunately, what Spy Kids 2 lacks is the cohesiveness that prevented the first one from being just another kids’ movie.

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams
Rated PG-13
Playing at area theaters
Two-and-a-half reels out of four

Video Pick

In the Bedroom
Rated R
Available Tuesday

Garnering five Oscar nominations, including a Best Picture nod and Sissy Spacek’s first trip to the ceremony in more than 15 years, In the Bedroom more than lives up to its reputation. It tells the story of a tragic death of a gifted young man and the devastating effect it has on his family. Spacek deserved her nomination, but it is Tom Wilkinson who gives the movie its X factor. His performance is a nuanced m�lange of regret, stifled rage and paternal grief. Todd Field directs with care, never doing more or less than letting the powerful story speak for itself.