Three’s the charm

Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over

Daryl Sabara, left, and Alexa Vega reprise their roles as siblings Juni and Carmen in <i>Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over</i>.

Daryl Sabara, left, and Alexa Vega reprise their roles as siblings Juni and Carmen in Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over.

Rated 1.0

Writer and director Robert Rodriguez keeps the Spy Kids franchise going with Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, but by now, it has all but run out of gas. The only interesting thing about this latest chapter is that it’s in 3-D (well, sort of, but more about that later). And even that is not done very well.

The plot is shamelessly stolen from Disney’s Tron. Spy Kid Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara) has “retired” from the agency at the ripe old age of 12, but he is coaxed back for an important mission. It seems a new video game titled Game Over is about to be released. It’s eagerly awaited by the world’s children, but the Spy Kids are suspicious about the intentions of the game’s creator, the Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone). So, Juni’s sister, Carmen (Alexa Vega), has entered the virtual-reality game in advance of its release. Now, she’s trapped inside the game, and only Juni can rescue her and complete her mission of shutting down the game and thwarting the Toymaker’s nefarious plans. To enter the game, Juni puts on a pair of virtual-reality glasses; at the same time, we in the audience don the same glasses, and the movie changes to 3-D.

A little background, now, about 3-D. To simplify somewhat, there are three basic kinds of 3-D movies. IMAX 3-D is the best, but it’s a special case because only IMAX can do it; it involves a radio signal to the viewer’s glasses that blots out one eye first and then the other, 48 times a second. Then there’s Polaroid 3-D (the most common during the brief 1950s craze), which uses different left- and right-eye prints projected simultaneously; this is expensive and labor-intensive and seldom used anymore because of the demands of quality control. Finally, there’s anaglyphic 3-D, which uses red and blue lenses to filter the right and left images. This is the cheapest and worst 3-D process, guaranteed to induce a headache that could linger for days. And it’s what we get in Spy Kids 3-D.

One obvious drawback to anaglyphic 3-D is that it only really works (when it works at all) with a black-and-white movie. You’d think it would be obvious, but Rodriguez tries it with color here, and the result is that the scenes we see through the red and blue glasses all seem to be taking place behind a window smeared with grape Jell-O. Another less-obvious drawback to anaglyphic 3-D is that it is designed for people whose right eye (red lens) is dominant. If, like me, you are left-eye dominant, it is even harder to cope with the headache-inducing image. In that case, you may want to slip the glasses off from time to time, just to be sure of what’s going on—sacrificing the 3-D, of course.

And without 3-D, Spy Kids 3-D has almost nothing to hook an audience. The story is just an excuse for the effects, which assault the vision and hearing equally. It’s not hard to imagine children, at a delicate stage of physical development, emerging from the theater with temporarily crossed eyes and permanent hearing damage from the deafening sound effects. The movie’s cozy platitudes about family values and being nice to the disabled don’t really compensate for that.

Rodriguez also makes a major miscalculation. Nearly everyone who made the first film enjoyable (and the second film barely tolerable) is shoved into the background here. Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alan Cumming, Tony Shalhoub, George Clooney, Steve Buscemi and Holland Taylor are all confined to cameos, most of them in the last five minutes. Only Ricardo Montalban plays a major role, as the grandfather, and his scenes with Stallone are the best in the film.

Rodriguez contends with a more inexorable obstacle, too. The truth is that the youthful stars are growing up; Sabara, especially, is less kiddie-cute than he was in 2001, and he unfortunately is unable to carry the film as he’s asked to do. It might have been better if he had been the one trapped, and Vega, as Carmen, had gone in to rescue him. She has more experience and more resources as an actor. But she’s even less of a kid.