Spy Kids 3D: Game Over

on July 25, 2003 by Christine James
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The opening titles deem "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over" a "Robert Rodriguez Digital File." In an increasingly CGI-fixated medium, that's a new possessory credit for the industry guilds to fight over. But mostly, it underlines where writer/director Rodriguez's priorities were when conceiving of this feature-length video game in which virtual is visceral while reality bytes.

Spy Kid Juni (Daryl Sabara) has resigned from the OSS (whatever that stands for), holding an excessive grudge over being briefly ousted from the espionage organization in the last film. He's opened his own detective agency, but assignments like finding lost toys and rescuing cats stuck in trees pale in comparison to his past OSS missions that involved fighting live skeletons, evading hybridized monsters and saving the world. All he has to look forward to is the unveiling of "Game Over," a new video game that's the ultimate in immersive technology, to be released to hordes of eager kids everywhere at midnight. But he's sidelined by an emergency call from the OSS: It turns out "Game Over" was designed by the nefarious and insane Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone) to trap players in cyberspace and "take over the minds of the world's youth in order to control the future" (though these goals seem to be at odds with each other). Worse, Juni's sister Carmen (Alexa Vega) has ventured into the game to try to stop the Toymaker, only to disappear from OSS radar. Juni has no choice but to go in after her, playing the game until he reaches Level 4, where Carmen was last seen.

Juni dons his high-tech goggles while the audience adjusts the rubberbands on their cardboard stereoscopic glasses. Inside the game, the film comes to life, starting out "low-res!", as Juni exclaims in awe as he's surrounded by pixilated "pogo toads" and Atari melodies. The graphics--and stakes--quickly get a lot more intense as some self-serving beta testers also roaming the game sometimes unwittingly and other times reluctantly help Juni ascend the levels. Floundering at an early stage, Juni, who's in radio contact with the OSS, is told he can bring in one member of his family to help. He chooses his wheelchair-bound grandfather (Ricardo Montalban), based on his bizarre supposition that "the power from his legs must have been redirected into his upper body and mind" or something to that effect. Once in the game, Gramps gets a powerful robo-body which he uses occasionally to help Juni but mostly to wander around off-camera seeking his nemesis: It was the Toymaker who crippled him decades earlier.

The computer animation and 3-D effects are pretty fantastic as Juni speedraces and lava-surfs his way to the Toymaker. But that's the only area where any thought or energy was expended. The story is flimsy, simple-minded and often nonsensical, compounded by some obtrusively abysmal supporting cast choices, including Salma Hayek as the unlikely Giggles family matriarch; Elijah Wood, looking awkward in a spacesuit with a distractingly weird codpiece, as a mythic but pointless figure in the game; and, most egregiously, Stallone as a schizophrenic madman playing five badly bewigged personalities each more painfully embarrassing than the next. Starring Daryl Sabara, Alexa Vega, Ricardo Montalban and Sylvester Stallone. Directed and written by Robert Rodriguez. Produced by Elizabeth Avellan and Robert Rodriguez. A Miramax release. Family/Adventure. Rated PG for action sequences and peril. Running time: 84 min.

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