[Screen It]

(2003) (Daryl Sabara, Alexa Vega) (PG)

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Action/Adventure: A former spy kid virtually enters a three-dimensional video game to save his sister who's missing somewhere inside it.
Former "spy kid" Juni Cortez (DARYL SABARA) has retired from the OSS, but is called back to active duty by the President (GEORGE CLOONEY). It seems that an upcoming video game known as Game Over will imprison the minds of anyone who manages to get to its final fifth level. Juni's sister, Carmen (ALEXA VEGA), was virtually sent into the game earlier, but has now disappeared on the fourth level.

Accordingly, Juni and his grandfather (RICARDO MONTALBAN) travel into the game, where they have just twelve hours to find Carmen and shut down the game before it's released to the public. They've also been warned not to allow the game's maker, The Toymaker (SYLVESTER STALLONE), to escape from his virtual prison inside it, but Juni's grandfather has a longstanding grudge to settle with the Toymaker and thus sets out to find him.

Running into beta testers Arnold (RYAN JAMES PINKSTON), Rez (ROBERT VITO) and Francis (BOBBY EDNER), along with Demetra (COURTNEY JINES), who are all stuck inside the game, Juni does what he must to find his sister and save the day. He also gets some assistance from his parents, Gregorio (ANTONIO BANDERAS) and Ingrid (CARLA GUGINO), as well as others from his past.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
All families, no matter how close they might be, always need some time apart. Whether it's simply to have more time alone, foster individualism and/or prevent in-fighting, such separation is usually a good thing. That is, except in the movies where the family unity and togetherness is the selling point, such as was the case with the first two "Spy Kids" films.

After the success of those pictures and the junior Bond-esque escapades within them, the Cortez family - parents Gregorio and Ingrid, and kids Carmen and Juni - obviously decided they needed that time and space apart.

The result is that Daryl Sabara's Juni is the predominant star of "Spy Kids 3D: Game Over" since the parents, played by Antonio Banderas ("Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever," Femme Fatale") and Carla Gugino ("The One," "Snake Eyes"), are mostly MIA and Alexa Vega's Carmen doesn't show up until the third act.

Although Sabara has been a big draw for boys in the film's fan base, he hasn't been - how shall I put this politely - the most notable thespian among the bunch. Perhaps sensing that or just the need to spice up the offerings (to ward off a potential drop-off in box office numbers), returning writer/director Robert Rodriguez ("The Faculty," "From Dusk Till Dawn") has added a gimmick that turns out to be the film's most notable attraction.

For the first time in a long time, we have a major theatrical release that's offered in 3-D. That's right, get ready to don those blue and red lens spectacles as a majority of the picture appears with a bit more depth than usual. Actually, it's a lot more depth that, once one gets past the differing translucence of the lenses, is quite fun to behold.

That is, as long as you aren't expecting too many objects appearing to fly out at your face (most of the depth goes back into the screen rather than come out of it, although there are some moments of that) and/or don't mind the majority of the film appearing in a less than realistic looking videogame.

Yes, in true "Tron" fashion, Juni is sent into a videogame and must contend with the Toymaster (rather than David Warner's Dillinger in that earlier and groundbreaking, yet now primitive-looking effort), while participating in some high speed races, chases and battles, and trying to rescue his sister.

That might sound like an exciting time. Yet, the plot is really just a throwaway device designed to allow for as many 3-D effects as possible. While some of that's fun to watch, it doesn't really make for much of a movie in the traditional sense of the word.

The result is what amounts to a rather bland effort as Juni encounters several other "humans" inside the game. They include Ryan James Pinkston (making his debut), Robert Vito (ditto), Bobby Edner ("Eight Crazy Nights," "The Muse") and Courtney Jines ("Red Betsy," "Drop Back Ten) while Juni's grandfather - played by the returning Ricardo Montalban ("The Naked Gun," "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan") - is now freed from his wheelchair in this virtual world and wants to find that Toymaker.

Montalban's is the best character the film has to offer, particularly with the few related inside jokes regarding "Khan" and some fine Corinthian leather. A few other such cultural references are present (including ones from "The Matrix" and "The Lord of the Rings," as well as a brief gumshoe film noir type spoof) but they're few and far in between.

Sylvester Stallone ("Driven," "Get Carter"), on the other hand, doesn't fare nearly as well playing the megalomaniacal toy maker or the three virtual versions of him (looking like but not guaranteed to be a guru, pocket-protector wearing geek and what looks like a German WWI officer of some sort) that are supposedly present for comic relief (but aren't remotely funny).

Salma Hayek ("Frida," "Timecode") isn't around long enough to make any sort of difference, while the likes of Steve Buscemi, Bill Paxton, Alan Cummings and others from the first two films only appear in brief cameos here. Despite the notion that all of them make up an extended family or the more obvious brother saving sister with the help of their grandfather angle, the film is missing much of the familial angle that made the first two films appealing.

Too reminiscent of "Tron" and even that computerized 3-dimensional episode of "The Simpsons," the film comes off like an amusement park ride that's fun and engaging for a while, but becomes boring once you realize it's all flash and little substance.

It certainly isn't something you'd want to ride as a feature length release (3-D or not). "Spy Kids 3D: Game Over" appears to have run out of story ideas and amounts to little more than a weakly plotted visual gimmick. It rates as just a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 14, 2003 / Posted July 25, 2003

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