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Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over
2003 - PG - 87 Mins.
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Producer: Antonio Banderas, Robert Rodriguez, Elizabeth Avellan
Starring: Daryl Sabara, Alexa Vega, Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas, George Clooney
Review by: John Ulmer
I think I would have enjoyed "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over" a lot more if I had achieved a pair of 3-D glasses before seeing the film. Without them, nothing jumped out at me and the movie -- which is like one long, overdrawn theme park -- seemed rather pointless. For viewers with 3-D glasses, maybe it was a treat. But as a mainstream movie attempting to stay around for a while...well, it won't. Because it's just a long theme park ride -- and they get old after a while, especially when they're outdated.

I enjoyed some scenes in "Spy Kids 3-D." It is a lot like a videogame, and does a good job of mimicking one. The visual effects are never very good, probably on purpose -- graphics in videogames, after all, are not yet truly realistic. But apart from successfully making us feel as if we are in a videogame, "Spy Kids 3-D" does little else. In fact, it plays out like a videogame very much -- sometimes in unintended areas.

Of course, director Robert Rodriguez ("Once Upon a Time in Mexico") is notorious for being fast-paced and furious. He is perfect for material such as this. It's just a question of whether we, as a viewer, can put up with one long 90-minute 3-D theme park ride/videogame imitation without taking part in the process. Videogames are, after all, essentially interactive -- they wouldn't be entertaining if we just watched the characters move about on the screen, which is exactly what happens here.

Juni (Daryl Sabara) has retired from his family's spy agency and become a PI. Oh, yeah, forget school -- he has a steady job finding lost cats and toys. His career highlight is discovering why there's no water at a theme park for a little girl, who claims to be the owner. "It's winter," he says.

Juni is called back into action when his older sister, Carmen (Alexa Vega), has disappeared inside a videogame called Game Over, created by The Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone in an unthankful role), a maniacal modern-day Hitler bent on enslaving children across the world in his new never-ending videogame and thereby controlling the future fate of mankind. (Problem: how can life reproduce when all the world's children are attached to videogames? Never mind; I don't want to know.)

Juni is briefed on his upcoming mission by a beautiful computer/videogame hacker, played by Salma Hayek, who is portraying a computer nerd but looks wholly different (she still has the little girl ponytails left over from "Dogma"). Juni is sent into The Toymaker's new game in an attempt to shut down the system core before it goes live in a matter of hours, and every single child across the world plugs into the contraption (save those who can't afford or don't want to own such a thing, another obvious problem overlooked by the film).

Inside he is befriended by a group of fellow Beta Testers (individuals who get to try out the game prior to release,) who call Juni The Guy, since he looks like the outline of the advertising figure printed on the videogame's cover art, who is destined to be the leader of the Beta Testers and who will unlock the secret of the "unwinnable" Level 5. This must be an ill-fated spoof on Keanu Reeves' The One, but the laughs never go anywhere. In fact, when the real "Guy" is finally revealed, it's none other than Elijah Wood, who survives two minutes before being booted out of the game. I appreciate the cameo, but wouldn't it have been a lot funnier to cast Keanu Reeves in the brief role? The thin parody of "The Matrix" would have been even clearer. In fact, I was half expecting Elijah to crouch down and call the group of children The Fellowship of the Game at one point.

The movie has lots of cameos. George Clooney, Bill Paxton, Steve Buscemi, and Alan Cumming all show up for a moment or two, which seems more like a long cameo reel than anything having to do with the movie. But we do get to see Clooney impersonate Sly Stallone at one point, and any movie that has that can't be half bad...right?

Antonio Banderas is given top billing in "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over," although fans of the actor will be disappointed to realize he shows up at the end of the movie to try and destroy The Toymaker's virtual self after he breaks out into the real world. (Question: how do computer programs take life form when the universe is not run by a computer processor? Hmm….) In fact, the real star of the show is Daryl, and that's unfortunate since the chubby little twerp has -- what film critics call -- absolutely no sense of screen presence whatsoever. The little guy can't act too well, either, especially when he's interacting with his fellow videogame testers and demonstrating his best materialization of the expression "Bug-Eyed."

I'm being unfair. The movie has some good parts to it. Some. If you shut off your brain and do not try to follow the plot at all (which I realized halfway through is impossible since the longer the film runs the lesser the cohesion and common sense grow), you may find yourself enjoying the ride. I might have if I had been given 3-D glasses beforehand. But if you go into this film without some, the fact that it's just one long theme park ride marketed as a feature film becomes quite apparent.

I liked the cameos and, to a certain extent, Robert Rodriguez' bright and vibrant visualization of the inside of a videogame matrix (though it has been done before -- remember "The Lawnmower Man"?) Rodriguez can make good action movies. "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over" is primarily a failure because it is nothing than one long overdrawn ride without a point. It's a good family film with morals, but it mimics what it is spoofing too much. It's nothing than a long videogame, only when you're not in control of what's happening, videogames are pretty dull. Why do you think no one likes to let their friends have a go on their game consoles?

For Rodriguez, this series has just lost its third life. Game over.
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

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