The posters scream '"Brand new adventure'" but, given that this is a kid-movie sequel, don't expect Robert Rodriguez to stray too far from the successful formula of the original Spy Kids. Which means two things: one, the multi-hyphenate Texan (director-editor-writer-production designer-co-producer-composer) has again given free rein to his fertile imagination. Two, there's just the slightest whiff of production-line filmmaking. Certainly enough to counteract Rodriguez's "rebel helmer" reputation.
Still bickering but now fully fledged spy kids, Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) face a clutch of new complications, including rival spy kids, corruption in their espionage organisation and, in a particular highlight, spy grandparents. The latter come in the form of old pros Holland Taylor and Ricardo Montalban - - a cult casting coup in anyone's book - - but you can't help wishing Montalban had been given the opportunity to ham it up as a cackling villain.
In fact, there's a disappointing lack of cackling all round. Steve Buscemi is unusually bland as an ambiguous scientist, while smug spy brats Gary and Gerti Giggles (Matthew O'Leary and Emily Osment) are more irritating than hissable. Thorns in our heroes' sides, they have Carmen hot (Gary's her first crush) and Juni bothered (he can't stand them) - - though not nearly as bothered as cinema audiences will be by Osment's similarity to older bro Haley Joel. The only difference is the pigtails.
Rodriguez throws in enough vivid imagery to hold your attention - with nods to 007 and Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion talents especially prevalent - and ensures energy levels are high. Antonio Banderas, meanwhile, is always fun to watch when mugging this shamelessly. Yet you can't help wondering about the follow-up when Rodriguez decides to do the done thing and turn his moneyspinner into a trilogy. What do you mean, "not likely"? He's probably already working out if he can play every part in front of the camera as well as every role behind it...