Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams

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“Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams” suffers from the same syndrome as 99 percent of all sequels in that we’ve already been there and done that. The novelty of children acting as spies has worn off, and “Island of Lost Dreams” doesn’t add anything new to what its predecessor established.

However, its predecessor was an inventive and original film that aimed at kids without talking down to them, and the follow-up has the same attitude. Like the recent “Stuart Little” sequel, this one is nothing new, but that shouldn’t bother kids, who seem to enjoy watching the same thing over and over again.

By now, Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) Cortez are well-established spies in the U.S. government’s junior spy division. They have competition, though, in Gary (Matthew O’Leary) and Gerti (Emily Osment, Haley Joel’s sister), fellow young spies with shady motives whose father (Mike Judge) is a shady agent himself.

It is convoluted, but somehow everyone winds up on an island run by a genetic engineer (Steve Buscemi) who has accidentally created some seriously freakish mutant animals from which he spends his days and nights hiding. Carmen and Juni must traverse the island to reach something called a “transmooker device,” which has the potential of destroying the world. Or something.

Whatever’s going on, it allows the kids opportunities to use nifty gadgets and fly around on jetpacks. Another movie opening this week, “XXX,” plays on the fantasies of adolescent boys. “Spy Kids 2” plays on the fantasies of younger children, with many scenes of kids doing amazing, thrilling things. That is, after all, what the “Spy Kids” franchise is based on: Letting kids live exciting lives vicariously.

This one plays out like a cross between “Jurassic Park” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” with a clever “Lord of the Rings” reference so slight you might miss it. (“One necklace to rule them all” is the line to listen for.)

What’s missing is the sharp interplay between Carmen and Juni that made the first film such a delight. Rather than a loving brother-sister relationship marked by rivalry and squabbling, they now have a comforable working relationship that is not nearly as fun to watch.

Their parents, Gregorio and Ingrid, still played by Carla Gugino and Antonio Banderas, don’t have much to do. Getting an even worse deal are Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor as Ingrid’s parents, who didn’t approve of her marriage and who used to be spies, too. (Shouldn’t Ricardo Montalban be playing Gregorio’s father, not Ingrid’s?) Their subplot shows up late, and then it just sits there. Alan Cumming and Tony Shalhoub, left over from the last film, make all-too-brief cameos.

So no, director/writer Robert Rodriguez didn’t make this sequel because he had a killer idea for a new story that would develop the characters further and offer amazing new adventures. He did it because the first one made a hundred bazillion dollars. The same sly sense of humor and mischievous attitude are here, though. Consider it another episode cut from the same cloth, if slightly more threadbare this time around.

B (1 hr., 40 min.; PG, mild action violence.)

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