First and foremost, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over has Excedrin written all over it.
Considering nearly two-thirds of the movie is filmed in 3-D, it arguably is the most visually ambitious of the series. And even though a thorough temple massage might be necessary when it’s over, there are some eye-popping sights to see.
What’s disappointing is that, unlike before, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez is more passionate about the film’s machinery and less so about its motifs. The usual cooperation of the family is missing here, at least in a genuine sense. One character’s comment that “everyone is family” is of the tenuous, tree-hugging variety, not to mention uttered by actress Emily Osment, whose similarity in appearance and voice to brother Haley Joel is frightening in a bad way.
The 3-D gimmick, which kicks in immediately, is in fact so distracting and overpowering that the film has to repeat its narrative set-up, which is that Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara) has for some reason left the Spy Kids program and gone solo as a pint-sized private detective.
He’s called back into action, though, when his sister Carmen (Alexa Vega) is trapped on the fourth level of an interactive online game called Game Over. Its creator, The Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone) has an ultimate plan to enslave the minds of all the children playing it. Along with his grandfather (Ricardo Montalban), Juni must enter the game, save Carmen and bring down the Toymaker.
As in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, the cue to don the glasses in Spy Kids 3-D comes when a major character puts them on. (Of course, for those unable to follow that instructions, all-caps captions reading “GLASSES ON” and “GLASSES OFF” flash on-screen too.)
The 3-D comes to life best during a racing sequence within the game clearly inspired by Tron and every bit as good. It’s an exciting, suspenseful segment as car parts come flying off the screen fluidly and vividly.
But too frequently, the 3-D image is devoid of the bright color scheme that has defined the series and sometimes blurry or washed-out. And just because Alan Cumming, reprising his role as Fegan Floop, jokes about your eyes hurting doesn’t make it any less annoying. Occasional peeks out from behind the glasses suggest the movie could more or less be watched without them.
However fleeting they may be, there are brief moments to savor in Spy Kids 3-D while Rodriguez is giving us the old razzle dazzle.
As the wheelchair-bound Cortez grandfather, Montalban shines in two poignant scenes where he discusses how his disability has affected his life, good and bad. It’s a brief reminder of how gently touching Rodriguez can be with this story. Stallone hams it up for fun in a performance just as surprisingly good as his fat, half-deaf sheriff in Copland. And a late-movie bit of dialogue from Bill Paxton will provide a hearty laugh for die-hard film buffs.
For the finale, the heretofore unseen Mom, Dad and Grandma Cortez are introduced with title cards. What feels wrong is that we haven’t forgotten them, but it seems like Rodriguez has forsaken them for the sole sake of making cream pies and machine parts look like they’re flying at your face.
In its move to go three-dimensional, Spy Kids has gone one-dimensional.