Hurray for “Spy Kids 2,” this summer’s most imaginatively joyous adventure.
Carmen and Juni Cortez are back, now full-time operatives of the spy organization OSS and its new kids unit. As the movie opens, the Preident’s young daughter (“The Grinch’s” Taylor Mumson) is visiting the Troublemaker Theme Park. The rides may be hilariously terrifying (the park’s owner wisely puts up an umbrella as they walk by the one named “The Vomiter”), but the President’s daughter is too cross about her father’s failure to appear to be interested. When she goes on the Juggler ride, she climbs out on a ledge and refuses to come down until he keeps his promise. And it turns out that she has taken the President’s Transmooker! The Juggler ledge will not support the weight of the Secret Service agents. Time for some spies who just happen to be kids!
Carmen and Juni are on the case, but so are their top competition, the Giggles siblings, Gertie (Emily Osment, sister of the star of “The Sixth Sense”) and Gary (Matt O’Leary).
Then, at a big party in honor of the OSS, the Giggles kids’ father is appointed director under very mysterious circumstances. All of the adults are knocked out by drugged champagne and that all-important Transmooker is stolen again. The Giggles kids are assigned to get it back, but the Cortez kids substitute themselves and are off to a mysterious island in a super-dooper dragonfly-shaped submarine.
On the island, they have to keep ahead of all kinds of strange creatures and ahead of the Giggles kids, who catch up quickly. It turns out that a scientist (Steve Bucscemi) has been using the island to do genetic experiments (his spider monkey is a monkey top with eight spider legs and his slizzard is part snake, part lizard) and has created a cloaking device to keep people from discovering what he is doing. It is the cloaking device — and its critical piece, the Transmooker — that all the spies are after.
The spy kids have some wonderful new gadgets, but one of the movie’s wisest choices is to make the Transmooker turn off anything that works with electicity, so the kids have to solve most of their problems with the two things that do work, their brains and the last gift from their gadget-master, Uncle Machete — a rubber band. He tells them that it has “999 uses, and you have to figure out which one to use.”
Like the first one, this is fresh, funny, exciting, and brilliantly inventive. The OSS party scene is simply marvelous, as a cordon of Secret Service agents move from side to side in perfect formation to allow the President’s daughter to have enough space for her ballet dance. It was sheer inspiration to bring in another generation of spies, with the magnificent Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor as Ingrid Cortez’s parents, far more terrifying for Gregorio than the most powerful of bad guys. The story sags slightly toward the middle, and the part with Cheech Marin (who has appeared in all of the movies made by screenwriter/director Robert Rodriguez) seems awkward and unfinished, as though some scenes are missing. It is still by far the best family movie of the summer. I just hope they make another one every year.
Parents should know that there is some brief gross-out humor (most kids will love it) and some tense peril (no one gets hurt). Everything that appears very scary at first turns out to be friendly and cooperative. As in the first, the movie is outstanding in showing women and Latinos in key roles.
Families who see this movie should talk about the President’s daughter’s feelings about not getting enough attention from her father. What do you think about Juni’s advice to her? What do you think will happen? We see three different families in the movie. How are they different? How do you think Gary’s view that “a good spy makes no binding connections wth family or friends” makes him feel as a son? As a spy? If that is your rule, how do you know who to trust and how do you know what is right?
How have Carmen and Juni changed since the first movie? Why was it hard for Ingrid’s parents to accept Gregorio? What should he do about that? How do both Carmen and Juni and their parents show their need to be independent?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original and Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. They will also enjoy the “Cover Me” television show, based on the adventures of some real- life spy kids and their parents. They might like to look at the website of the CIA, which was originally called the OSS.