Mark Reviews Movies


1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Daryl Sabara, Alexa Vega, Ricardo Montalban, Sylvester Stallone, Ryan _James_ Pinkston, Robert Vito, Bobby Edner, Courtney Jines, Salma Hayek, Mike Judge, Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Holland Taylor, Alan Cumming

MPAA Rating:  (for action sequences and peril)

Running Time: 1:25

Release Date: 7/25/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

I am left sorely disappointed by Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over for many reasons. First of all, producer/visual effects supervisor/composer/designer/cinematographer/editor/writer/director Robert Rodriguez had something of great promise with this series. Spy Kids and Spy Kids 2 were oases of original, imaginative filmmaking in a desert of children's entertainment. They had a bright and colorful vision. They indulged in lower-end special effects that relied more on fun than believability. They seemed to be following a logical progression of storytelling. Most of all, though, they had heart. Boy, did they have heart. You could tell Rodriguez wanted to make films that he probably wished he could have watched as a child, and he let us in on his whimsy in this world. Family was the central theme of both films, and it made such an impact in the final moments of the first sequel that I couldn't help but anticipate the next chapter in the chronicles of a pair of spy kids. The potential for such a continuation is still possible, and I can only hope this episode turns out to be what it feels like: a very unfortunate, very rough bump in the road.

When we last left Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara), he had become disillusioned with the spy business. Now he considers himself an ex-agent of the OSS and has gone out on his own as a private investigator. Things are slow in the business, but like every kid in the world, he's excited about the release of a new high-tech video game that actually transports the player into a new gaming world. The OSS calls him to headquarters for some help with this new game. It seems that its creator the Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone) has created a fully addictive experience which will trap each and every player in the game. Juni sees no reason for his involvement, but when he finds out that his sister Carmen (Alexa Vega) has gone in first and is trapped, he decides to help. The way the game is set up, players advance from level one to level five. He will get some help from a few beta testers (someone who is selected to play the game before release to test it for bugs) and Grandpa (Ricardo Montalban).

There's really no way to say this gracefully, so here it goes: the 3-D technique is single-handedly responsible for the failure of Spy Kids 3-D. From the very opening of the movie, which has Alan Cumming's Floop recapping the events of the last movie and telling us when to use the 3-D glasses, it's fairly apparent the success of the movie hinges on the technique's success. There's no subtlety to the movie's announcement of the need for the glasses ("Glasses On!"), and the execution of the effect throughout the movie follows in suit. Although I learn the movie uses the most advanced 3-D process, the glasses are of the old-school red and blue variety, and the effect dulls what could have been imaginative imagery. The previous films were bright and cheerful; this one is missing that edge. In the action scenes, Rodriguez relies too much on setting up scenarios where things will come toward the screen and not enough on highlighting the virtual environments. The creativity runs out quickly here, as the movie never take full advantage of its setup. There are two somewhat effective sequences, one involving a battle between giant robots and the other a race, but even they are too generic to work.

There is one moment of inspiration in the form of a cameo by Elijah Wood as the enigmatic The Guy (think a kiddy version of The One). The all-too but necessarily brief scene reminds us that the movie's sense of humor is missing. It's the movie's best scene, punctuated with a wicked punch line. Part of the whole problem is that the movie plunges us in too quickly; we're never fully sure of what's going on and are left with lots of plot holes. It seems that the Toymaker is responsible for the game, but the OSS is able to manipulate it (through hacking, I assume). There are tons of questions left unanswered. How did the Toymaker become exiled in a game world that he created? What happened between the Toymaker and Grandpa that left the latter in a wheelchair? What is Sylvester Stallone doing? Poor Stallone—look at him trying. He portrays the Toymaker and his three alternate personalities, but they all end up sounding the same. Eventually the levels of the game become settings composed of Tetris blocks, but even before then, the 3-D has worn out its welcome. It becomes a relief when the game ends and the characters return to the real world (Grandpa acts for the entire audience and rubs his eyes).

The movie ends with an invasion of robots from the gaming world into the real world and one last opportunity to use those 3-D glasses. The only problem is that there's no perceivable threat from these robots, but then again, there's never been any sense of risk throughout the entire adventure. Spy Kids 3-D is inconsequential to the series so far. By the end, nothing is resolved, and the rest of the family doesn't show up until cameos in the climactic battle (they still get top or high billing, though). The theme of family that gave the first two films resonance is an afterthought this time around (this time it's Grandpa's character that provides any resonance). Actually, the entire movie feels that way.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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