Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 07/25/03 15:07:36

"Dimensional Family Viewing Even Without The 3-D"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Ah, to be a kid again. When playing was on the agenda and a quarter was the only currency you would ever need at the local arcade. I've been feeling a lot like that lately. So many movies are bringing me back to my childhood. Who needs kids when the child inside us all can be reincarnated by a filmmaker like Robert Rodriguez, who has somehow managed to crank out and release a spectacular trilogy of imagination in a mere three years (with a fourth film on the way this year.)

Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara) has been on his own since being disgraced from the OSS in Part 2. Saving up all his private investigator money to buy the latest-and-greatest video game, "Game Over", he's soon called back into action when the game is discovered to be more than it appears. Its designer, The Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone), is trapped within and the only thing that can set him free is the "unwinnable" fifth level, which exists to ensnare the minds of the children who play it. Once they start playing, they can't stop.

Fellow Spy Kid Carmen (Alexa Vega) is also trapped in the virtual world and it's up to Juni to save his older sister. Taking more than a few cues from Tron, Rodriguez plunges us into the game where Juni must take on all the video game standards that little (and big) kids alike flock to buy for their home systems. Giant, battling mecharobots, car races and role-playing are the challenges facing the kids, and each provide their own level of excitement and wonder.

In case the title didn't tip you off already, this is the first theatrical release (not counting IMAX productions) since Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare to employ the 3-D format. It's understandable why Rodriguez wanted to do it, since virtual reality depends on a three-dimensional world in which the player is supposed to be part of the action. While there is some fun to have with the format (Alan Cumming's instruction introduction is priceless), it's also superfluous. The 3-D images look cool in their own way, but still carry that old ViewMaster stigma. Plus, Rodriguez's visuals in these films are such a colorful joy to behold that I would rather look upon them without without the provided red and blue tints.

The film is such a delight in itself though that such matters can hardly distract from the pleasure. Stallone is having a lot of fun with The Toymaker, playing up his "yo, Adrian" image but never overdoing it. Ricardo Montalban gets more screen time as the grandfather (and homaging two of his most famous roles), helping Juni along on his quest with a personal agenda of his own. I truly missed Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino as the parents (who get relegated to a late third act appearance), but even in Banderas' brevity he conveys how gifted a comic actor he truly is.

The Spy Kids Trilogy belongs to that invented genre of "perfect family viewing." I'm well past my adolescence, but I'll always appreciate films made with as much love as these obviously are. Even when I wasn't excited, my eyes drank in the visuals. It may not be as good as the wonderful second chapter (Island of Lost Dreams) but it is a perfect stand-alone accomplishment. When I wasn't laughing hard, I was actually laughing harder. Its riffs at the idea of a chosen one ("the guy") and a youngster's approach to lost love are precious. Rodriguez nicely approaches the roles that kids play out as outsiders and how they use, say, a comic book or a video game to live out their fantasies. How refreshing is it to see a family film that doesn't pander to the kids OR their family? The film's climax shows exactly the kind of respect for its audience that big-budget wasteoids like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Bad Boys II never could.

Rodriguez takes on all kind of credits with his films. He's director, writer, producer, editor, sound editor and its fun to just watch the final scroll and spot his name. Maybe some of the special effects (or the 3-D) are not up to par with the industry standards and the film's messages (especially the handicap speeches) are laid on a little thick, but they are nice messages wrapped up in a ball of fun that kids will want to play with again and again and hopefully never grow out of. Now that's a credit that Rodriguez should be proudest of.

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