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Robert Rodriguez becomes involved in the
world's largest class action lawsuit, after
having his characters literally "grope" the
unsuspecting family audience.

Spy Kids 3-D:  Game Over
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Ah, glorious 3-D.  I remember sitting in the theater, as a kid, watching the glut of three-dimensional films spat out at my childhood generation like Mandy Moore singles are currently spit out at tweens.  The first film I saw jump off the screen was 1981's Comin' at Ya! -- I was blown away.  Not by the script (give me some credit here), but by the effects.  The stuff on the screen really was coming at you

An instant 3-D addict, I quickly plopped down the $.99 cents (tickets on Tuesday night were really cheap, back then) to attend 1982's The Treasure of the Four Crowns.  The poorly-dubbed Indiana Jones wanna-be wasn't tooting its own horn when it called its 3-D effects, "Wonder-Vision."  The nifty effects were so "wonderful," they managed to disguise the truly awful film behind them.

My brother and I walked into the theater, about three minutes late, and there were arrows shooting out of the screen, directly into our eyes.  It freaked me out to the point where I took my cardboard glasses off and refused to put them back on for a good 45 seconds.  My younger brother was on his knees, in the aisle, covering his head, convinced that he had been drafted into Vietnam, and screaming about how we were going to "be killed" if we didn't go home.  Of course I convinced him that it was all an optical illusion.  Oddly enough, the grown-up members of the audience didn't murder us for all of the hootin', hollerin' and duckin' we were doing in the middle of the introductory action scene.  Maybe, as mature adults (they're probably dead, now) they realized the movie was a pile of junk.

We left the theater without a bruise, but completely enamored.  3-D was it!  We began praying that Revenge of the Jedi (the name was changed later) would be released in 3-D.  We were so sold on the concept of three-dimensions that we rushed to get out our cardboard glasses when Siskel & Ebert reviewed The Treasure of the Four Crowns, a week later (can you imagine waiting a week for a review?).  To our disappointment, the glasses didn't make the 3-D stuff fly out of the 19" television screen (the first color television that our family ever owned.  We were sort of low-income losers.).  This was one of many major letdowns we had in the cinematic third dimension. 

In 1983 Jaws 3-D was released.  Being that the original Jaws scared me so much that I wouldn't even swim past the shallow end in a motel swimming pool, I was ready to be terrified.  This was Jaws.  This was Jaws in 3-D.  Could I handle it?  My grandma -- also a big fan of films featuring sharks chomping down on humans -- couldn't wait to see this movie.  It would be her first 3-D film. 

We got to the theater, put on our glasses, and I noticed something strange:  the glasses were red and blue (the other 3-D movies I saw provided the audience with slightly tinted clear lenses).  What was this red and blue garbage?  Regardless, I went into the film feeling optimistic (remember -- I was young) and figured that the whole "red and blue" thing was the next evolution in three-dimensional realism.  This may have been the historical moment where I went from an optimist, to a cynic.  After the first few minutes of the movie, I knew that these red and blue glasses needed to go.  They were a major let-down.

My grandma liked the flick, so I pretended to enjoy it.  Secretly, I thought that the tagline on the posters making claims that "the third dimension is terror," would have been more accurate if they made promises to the audience that "the third dimension is a view master."  That's what the film looked like.  Rarely did things pop out at you (if I remember correctly, some spear-gun sort of thingie kind of flew between my eyes), but there was a little extra depth added to the film (only in the third-dimension, sense).  Calling the film "3-D" seemed like a crime, and I cursed those red and blue glasses. 

I cursed those multi-color glasses for being inferior to the nifty clear glasses (they were possibly a light gray), but I damned them for forcing me to lie to my grandmother and pretend that I was happy with the film (film critics are born to be film critics -- and film critics don't fib, unless they're afraid that the truth will have them swimming against the clique of critics that they so desperately want to be a part of).  More salt was poured into my wound when my grandma finally revealed -- weeks later -- that she thought that the movie was "kind of a stinker."  She admitted that she "exaggerated" her opinion of the film, because she figured that, as a kid, I'd be all impressed over a chomped off arm that floated about 1.111111 inches from the screen.  It turned out that we were both pretending to enjoy a movie that we both thought was a great white turd.  We had a good laugh over that one, over dead cattle and fried chicken flesh, stuffed between a pair of buns made of oat bran (we were "heart healthy"), with fries on the side, at the local Ember's.

Flash-forward eight years, to 1991.  3-D looked to be finally making its long overdue comeback with Freddy's Dead:  The Final Nightmare.  At least it did look that way, until I was handed a pair of cardboard red and blue glasses.  I didn't expect much, and I got less.  The majority of the movie wasn't all that horrible, but the second the 3-D "finale" started, it became puke-inducing.  The audience was told to put on their glasses at the same time that the film's heroine did, because that's the only way they would be able to see into Freddy Krueger's consciousness.  Whatever.  In reality, it was the only way New Line Cinema could see a profit-margin, after the fifth Nightmare was flushed down the Box Office toilet. 

What started promising, with this sixth, and "final" installment, concluded (although they went on to make a seventh) with the most deplorable 3-D ever created -- unless you count an acid trip, taken in a garage, with no Grateful Dead posters.  The film's director, Rachel Talalay, has made it clear that she didn't want this three-dimensional mop-up of a closure included in her film.  It turns out that the studio insisted.

The Muppets in 3-D, on my view master projector -- which doesn't project in 3-D -- was more convincing than this.  It was Freddy's Dead that put the last nail in the coffin for me, when it came to 3-D.  Okay, it was actually that pathetic KISS Psycho Circus 3-D concert that was the last nail (and that was a $50.00 nail, for a band that I hadn't even listened to in over a decade), but Freddy's Dead gave out the cardboard glasses that broke the camel's back. 

I never thought I'd see 3-D again -- unless I was attending some overpriced theme park attraction, or KISS concert.  And then, in a surprise that could only be rivaled by my long dead girlfriend crawling out of the grave to ask me to the prom, along comes Spy Kids 3-D:  Game Over -- the first Spy Kids' film to enter the third dimension.  I guess that that low-budget horror movie was right, in its title:  "Sometimes They Come Back."  Could this be a good thing?  If any film could pull it off, it would be Spy Kids.  The first two installments of the series were something special.  I'd go as far as to say that they were "magic," but then I'd feel like a nerd.

After the slightly disappointing box-office return of the second Spy Kids' film, Robert Rodriguez knew he needed to create some sort of thingamajig type contrivance to keep his series alive.  Hence, Spy Kids 3-D:  Game Over.  Although the glasses are, once again, the dreaded red and blue type (I guess some theaters can't handle real "polarized" 3-D.  I say, screw 'em!  Do the audience right, and book competent theaters.  Or just shove the film in a bunch of IMAX type places.), Rodriguez nearly pulls it off.  His third film in the series is no where near the three-dimensional disaster that Jaws 3-D, Freddy's Dead, or that dorky KISS concert were.  It's actually pretty dang fun, and throws you a few fairly convincing 3-D effects.  It's too bad that the 3-D effects Rodriguez is throwing, take center-stage over the strong story of a solid family-unit that we were given in the first two films.

About a year ago, in my review for Spy Kids 2:  The Island of Lost Dreams, I correctly claimed that the reason these movies work is due to the two main spy kids having "charisma in spades."  The charisma is still there, during a few brief moments, but the charismatic character of Carmen Cortez (Alexa Vega) is relegated to a supporting role.  For the majority of the film, she's trapped by The Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone), and doesn't have a damn thing to do (outside of float around in some weird "floating-around" device).  Her younger brother, Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara), becomes the star of the film, when he is sent into a videogame to rescue his suspended sister.

As a diehard gamer since the Atari 2600, I fully understand the "save the princess" plotline incorporated into the film, but I can't help but feel that the brother and sister belong together.  They shoulda had that Gerti Giggles (Emily Osment) girl with the Pippi Longstocking hair play the damsel in distress.  The movie isn't called "Spy Kid," after-all.  When on the screen, at the same time, the kids perform at a level that would do Lemmon and Matthau proud.  I was disappointed, throughout the film, that the sister was rarely involved in the 3-D proceedings. 

Spy Kids 3-D:  Game Over, succeeds in its attempt at being a cinematic videogame.  If you have spent countless hours giving yourself carpel-tunnel syndrome, all in the name of defeating a boss, you should have a groovy time watching the third adventure in the Spy Kids' world.  Rodriguez has obviously done his research in the gaming world, and puts his video game education to good use by providing numerous treats, and inside jokes, for console owners. 

I got a big laugh out of the "why is there always lava levels in games?" line.  I laughed even harder when Carmen answers the question by saying that there are no lava levels in Halo, and that the levels appearing to be "lava" in Metroid (the best videogame series ever created) are technically, "Magma."  Most professional critics won't "get it," but kids in the audience, familiar with exceptionally well-crafted games, will be chuckling away. 

The movie is not merely an inside joke for people spending too much time with a Nintendo.  There are two adult actors giving it their all to make the Spy Kids' universe that much more complete.  It nearly brings a tear to your eye to see Ricardo Montalban, an actor who has been confined to a wheelchair for over a decade, playing the heroic Grandfather (he was also featured in the second film), digitally walking in this movie.  You can't help but believe that the man is back on his feet.  It's truly moving, and the best use of Computer Generated Imaging that I've ever seen. 

The second actor giving it his all is Sylvester Stallone, as The Toymaker.  For the first time since Rocky, or possibly the original First Blood, this guy proves that he can act.  Not Shakespeare, but not "Cobra," either.  If you stick around for the "bloopers" section during the credits, you'll see that the former muscle-bound stud has a good sense of humor regarding the schmaltzy caricatures he let himself "grow" into in the later sequels to what were initially great films (Rocky, First Blood).  Stallone goes as far as to let George Clooney pull off a parody of everything the man was, as an action star, during his prime.  Sly has also worked on that speech impediment of his.  This is the first movie he's starred in, where he doesn't sound like Elmer Fudd.

The final skirmish in the film is a slam-bang reminder of what made the first two Spy Kids movies great.  It's all about family.  It's too bad that talented actors such as Antonio Banderas and Steve Buscemi were relegated to mere cameos during the last five minutes of the picture.  Regardless, when they finally appear, you want to break out in applause.  Maybe that was Rodriguez's intention.  Video games move fairly slowly until they reach the final level.  The "final level" of this film moves at hyper-speed.

Spy Kids 3-D:  Game Over is an okay close to an admirable trilogy.  As a fan of the series, I don't want to believe that this is truly going to be the last film.  Personally, I hope Rodriguez will take a couple years off, and come back with Spy Teens (featuring all of the same actors).  Imagine teenage rebellion hitting a family of spies.  The best part of this spy saga may not yet be written.  It would be a shame to let it die with what is more of a Disney attraction, than a true Spy Kids' sequel.

To the credit of everyone involved, the real three-dimensional magic in the film are its unforgettable characters.  While inferior to its predecessors, the third Spy Kids is the first 3-D movie able to hold its own as a 2-D film.  Take that, Jaws!

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Text (Copyright) 2003 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].