THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


My first problem with Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over came when I couldn’t get the special glasses out of their clear plastic wrapper. Once I had them free, I had to go through that laborious process of trying to fit them comfortably over my eyeglasses. This is not easy, as anyone who wears glasses can attest to. Then the movie started and a moment of panic set in -- my 3-D glasses weren’t working! The opening shots didn’t look 3-dimensional at all. I couldn’t tell what I was looking at! Within a minute, I realized that my eyes were just going through the process of focusing, much like when you stare too hard at one of those “Magic Eye” books that were all the rage a few years ago. Although everything eventually got to working, I was forced to confront something I have long been hesitant to admit: 3-D is actually a pretty crappy gimmick. I’m always the first one to rush out and see a 3-D movie, from Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone in the 80’s, to Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare in the early 90’s, to Ghosts of the Abyss earlier this year. Although I run to them, I am often left to wonder what the point of 3-D is. It’s a question I asked myself again as I watched the third entry in the Spy Kids series of which I am so fond.

Actually, the movie should be called Spy Kid - singular – because most of the movie centers around young Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabarra), now retired from the spy organization known as the OSS. He has no intentions of returning to this line of work until his supervisor, Donnagon Giggles (Mike Judge), tells him that sister Carmen (Alexa Vega) is missing. Then he decides to help. At OSS headquarters, he is briefed by Giggles and wife Francesca (Salma Hayek). A villain known as the Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone) has created a virtual reality video game called “Game Over.” The game works as mind control on children; the toymaker figures that if he can control children, he can control the future. Carmen entered the video game but got stuck on Level 4 and never returned. Juni needs to play the game, save Carmen, and get to the supposedly unbeatable Level 5.

That set-up takes about 10 or 15 minutes. The rest of the movie is designed pretty much like a video game, with one 3-D action sequence after another. Juni takes part in a robot combat, a futuristic car race, and a Super Mario-style trek into a volcanic region. Meanwhile, the Toymaker (who inexplicably interacts with several alter egos, including a hippy-dippy flower child and a nerd) tries to lure Juni into a trap. Allowed one “lifeline” for help, he calls in the services of Grandpa (Ricardo Montalban), who finds himself physically rejuvenated in the video game world. An hour into the 85-minute movie, they finally locate Carmen and tackle Level 5.

My feelings on Spy Kids 3-D are so mixed. On one hand, I know what writer/director Robert Rodriguez was trying to do here. He wanted to make a movie strictly for the children. It’s been a long time since there’s been a major release 3-D movie, much less one aimed at a young audience. (The last was the aforementioned Freddy Kruger chiller from 1991.) Rodriguez knows most of today’s kids have never seen a real 3-D movie on the big screen before, and he rightly assumes that they will be blown away. Everything in this film is designed to make maximum use of the 3-D format. Objects are constantly whizzing toward the camera, providing an almost non-stop stream of stimulation. And as an exercise in the possibilities of 3-D, the movie is pretty effective. Some of the scenes are genuinely cool (I loved that car race, for instance). There’s more than enough here to dazzle children who are getting their first real exposure to the technique.

But there are two problems. First is that, like I said, 3-D is really kind of crappy. Unlike the superior clear 3-D glasses needed for Ghosts of the Abyss, this movie uses that old style where one lens is red and the other is blue. Looking through the glasses makes things look like they’re in 3-D, all right, but it also means the other colors get saturated out. It creates for an ugly looking film because everything is filtered through just two colors.

A bigger problem is that Rodriguez pumped all his energy (a significant amount of it, in fact) into dreaming up creative uses for the 3-D format. He was successful, but it happened at the expense of plot. Although this is undoubtedly the most rockin’ 3-D movie ever made, it lacks sorely in the kind of storytelling imagination that made me love the first two Spy Kids flicks. There are a few clever moments based on video game logic (such as when the injured Juni finds a “health”); what the film needs, though, is a reason to see it as anything other than a 3-D test reel. Although the effects were fun, I kept asking myself: “Would I like this movie if it were in 2-D?” The answer was no. The story is threadbare at best, the villain is dull and badly portrayed by Stallone, and the inventiveness that marked the first two films is greatly diminished.

Spy Kids 3-D just caused me to relive my love-hate relationship with 3-D movies. Too often they exist, as this one does, solely as an excuse to have things pop out at the audience. That’s fine in a theme park ride kind of way, but it does not necessarily make for a great movie (although I guess there is some perverse thrill from seeing Salma Hayek in 3-D). Did I enjoy Spy Kids 3-D? Yeah, sorta – but only as a 3-D demo. The movie will live most of its life on video and DVD, which are distinctly 2-D formats. So if you’re going to see it, then seeing it in a theater would be the preferable option. Will it provide the same adult entertainment value that the first two Spy Kids movies did? No. Grownups who dig this series will probably, like me, find this their least favorite installment. You’re kids are gonna love it, though.

( 1/2 out of four)

Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over is rated PG for action sequences and peril. The running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.

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