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  • Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002): ***

    Directed by Robert Rodriguez

    Wow! What a clusterf@#k of a movie! You know how most movies have a basic plot, but they're also about something? (This is sometimes called the movie's theme or moral or basically the point behind the story). Like for example Coyote Ugly is about overcoming fear of failure through exhibitionism. Iron Giant is about not fearing something just because it's different. The first Spy Kids was about finding confidence in who you are (basically). Sometimes movies can have a couple of themes running at the same time that kind of complement or compliment each other.

    But Spy Kids 2 is about a billion zillion things all at once. I'm serious. There have to be dozens of plot lines threading their way through this movie. Is it about Juni and Carmen having to overcome two other just-as-good-if-not-better spy kids? Well, at times, sure. Is it about how being great spies means more than just having great gadgets? Well, the movie is sure setup to be all about that, but it seems like this plot thread gets dropped and forgotten about somewhere in the middle of the movie. Is it about how generations treat each other? Well, there's some of that in there. Is it about dealing with disappointment? For a couple of characters, sometimes. The real problem is not that there are so many themes, but the fact that they're totally inconsistant. They come and go whimsically and are forgotten about completely and seemingly randomly. It could have been entirely possible to make this movie with a dozen themes (say one for each character), but themes even seem to switch between characters and such. It's really crazy to try to understand what this movie is about, so sometimes characters' reactions to things make you scratch your head.

    That said, let me talk about the plot. I'd talk about the "basic" plot, but the movie is obviously really complicated. It's been a year or so since Spy Kids took place, and Juni and Carmen have become such good agents that now there are dozens of Spy Kids and an entire Spy Kids organization. A secret device which has the ability to knock out all the elecrical devices in the world is stolen and taken to an island that doesn't show up on any radar or anything, and in fact any ship that gets near it mysteriously konks out and all elecrical systems shut down. Hmm...

    The job of getting the device (called the "Transmooker") back is given to Gerti and Gary Giggles by the head of the secred spy organization, their father Donnegan Giggles (who got the job in very suspicous circumstances early on in the film). Carmen and Juni, in order to prove that they are better spies than the Giggles, sidetrack them with a little detour to the middle of the desert and take thier places, setting out to find the island. When they get close their sub konks out, and they eventually get to the island only to find out it's filled with huge freaky monsters. They find the owner of the island, Romero (Steve Buscemi), is a quirky inventive genius who invented the Transmooker and also (accidentally) the monsters on his island. But he's so scared of the monsters that he never goes outside anymore (one of the best lines in the movie is his: "Do you think God stays in Heaven because he, too, fears what he created?")

    The Transmooker is at the top of a big tower on the other end of the island. The Giggles make it to the island, so it's a race to the Transmooker through the treacherous island. At the same time worried parents Gregoiro (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino) set out to try to rescue Carmen and Juni. But Ingrid's parents, Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor, decide to tag along to help...

    I make it sound pretty simple, I realize. The plot is pretty straightforward. But what's not straightforward at all is the seemingly random series of events that propel the second half of the movie forward, once the Spy Kids are going for the Transmooker especially. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, and then I realized what it was: Robert Rodriguez was making a kids movie with kids' storytelling processes. When kids make up a story, what do they have happen? Whatever's awesome. And then after that, something else awesome will happen. And then the characters do this and it's awesome. And then the caracteres do this and it's awesome. And then... and then...

    Rodriguez is the first filmmaker I've ever seen do this. This movie is totally an "And Then" movie. Suff seems to come out of nowhere and is never brought up again. Why? Becuase it was awesome. At one point Carmen and Juni stumble into a ruin. Suddenly they can hear each other's thoughts but not each other's voices. It has absolutely nothing to do with the story. Why does it happen? Because it's a really cool idea. And then Juni takes a piece of treasure from a treasure room, and a whole handful of skeletons come to life and attack them. Why? Becuse it's really cool and made for a really cool scene. And then there's a big fight at the top of the tower where the spy kids are riding on some of the big island monsters and fighting each other. And then... and then...

    This gives the movie a very episodic feel. Each sequence is almost self-contained before moving onto the next "And Then" moment.

    Boy, you know, this review sounds really negative, and yet I gave this film three full stars. Why? Well, I'll tell you. This film, as crazy and f@#ked up as its story and themes are, is filled from beginning to end with more pure imagination than any sixteen children's movies. It's full of stuff that you haven't ever seen in another movie, nor thought you would ever see in any movie. It has a crazy, manic energy from Rodriguez's direction that propels it along at a good, zippy pace that most of the time you don't even think about the plot. You just look at what's going on up there on the screen and think to yourself, "That's an awesome idea!" and "That's cool!" I had an absolute blast while I was watching the film. It's like having kids tell you a story they wrote and think is awesome. It doesn't have the emotional coherence of the first film, and it sure feels a lot different, but I just couldn't help and marvel at all the just plain awesome things that fill just about every frame. That's worth three stars right there.

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