- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

Dear reader, would you derive any more pleasure from this review if, say, the subjects, verbs or adjectives popped out at you like this: “MOVIE,” “CRITIC,” “PANS,” “CHEESY”?

“Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over” felt a little like that, only worse. Much, much worse.

Maybe a pop-up picture book would be a more apt comparison, except those never made my eyes feel as if a colony of miniature aliens in my sinus cavities were pounding on them.

Robert Rodriguez, a talented director who, alas, has gone to the well one too many times with this third issue of the “Spy Kids” franchise, has resurrected that horrible Hollywood confection, 3-D.

I’m told it stank in the ‘50s. It still stinks today, even accounting for the high-tech dress-up jobs that are digital videotape and computer-generated imaging (CGI).

Actually, that’s not completely true. James Cameron’s “Ghosts of the Abyss,” a Titanic documentary released earlier this year, worked just fine in 3-D — but that movie was shown on Imax-style screens, which call for a much better brand of special lenses.

For “SK3D,” we get the same old red-and-blue-tinted anaglyph glasses we wore in the early ‘80s, and if you’re not sitting in the theater’s 3-D sweet spot — well away from the front, and dead center — they will, over time, assault your eyes with a sensation somewhere between a traditional headache and a glaucoma checkup.

It doesn’t help that “SK3D” is a rehash of the old “Tron” formula, either.

Our intrepid underage sibling spies, Juni and Carmen Cortez (played respectively by Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega) have gotten themselves trapped in a video game called Game Over, a virtual reality run by an egotistical villain called the Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone, slightly less funny than he was in “Judge Dredd”).

If they don’t shut down the game, the Toymaker or, rather, Toymakers — he has four personalities, none of which is any more amusing than the others — will somehow wind up controlling the minds of the youngsters who try to conquer it.

Mr. Rodriguez corralled all his buddies for “SK3D,” including Salma Hayek, his Austin-based pal Mike Judge and a few others I shouldn’t give away.

Even their collective star power can’t rescue what, for all its relentless technical gimmickry, is an undeveloped story: How exactly will the Toymaker accomplish his feat of mind control? And why can’t those in the outside world just unplug him?

Three-D is an intrinsically unsubtle contraption. Was it really necessary to display “Glasses On” on the screen as though the audience was a pack of Pavlovian dogs?

Youngsters are smarter than this. They may be dazzled temporarily by Mr. Rodriguez’s cleverly conceived video-game milieu, but the diversion won’t last. It won’t take long for even the youngest of viewers to figure out there’s no there there.

*1/2

TITLE: “Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over”

RATING: PG (Action sequences and peril)

CREDITS: Written, edited and directed by Robert Rodriguez. Produced by Elizabeth Avellan and Mr. Rodriguez. Photography and music by Mr. Rodriguez.

RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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