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IN SHORT: Knowledge of the earlier movies required. That said, more fun than number two. Not as much as number one. [Rated PG for action sequences and peril.]
As evil as the nastiest super villain may be and as nasty as the most evil weapon imaginable may be there is one sure fire way to put the beloved Spy Kids franchise out of business. It's called puberty. Spy Kids creator, writer director Robert Rodriguez does his best to hide that malady behind heavy duty super-hero type costuming, even as he puts his all into delivering the cap to his trilogy of films. Added to his already fevered imagination powers is the technological marvel of three dimensional film making, complete with custom glasses for viewing effects which come and go in the film. You get to put the glasses on and take them off several times in this film, with big cues on the screen to clue you in.
Honestly? The effects are lovely but . . . If you're saddled with glasses, as we are, that extra pair is a pain. Always has been. The remarkable thing about the process used for Spy Kids 3D is that you can easily watch the film without the 3D glasses. There is a slight red and green shadow to the characters and set pieces but a good 85 to 90% of each scene is visually clear. The technology used to shoot Spy Kids 3D, developed by James Cameron for his Ghosts of the Abyss project will easily allow a 2D video version which you may wish to wait for if the extra specs annoy. Then again, most kidlets won't care. If you've little ones to lug, make the effort to do so with a big screen for, even with a weaker story, the demographic target will gobble this up.
The last gasp of the Spy Kids franchise shows its age in the way it does its best to hide characters who are long past the "Kids" demarcation. If you missed out on films one and two, in which we are introduced to three generations of spies, you will be at an utter loss for the start of 3D, in which Juni (Daryl Sabara) has cut the cord to his OSS employed sister and family. He's busy doing investigative work on petty cases, living hand to mouth because he will not get sucked back into that government work that make his life so miserable. Like it or not, Juni will have to do a Pacino when President Devlin (George Clooney) drops the bomb that Juni's beloved spy-sister Carmen (Alexa Vega) is trapped inside Level Four of an insidious videogame called "Game Over" that all all the cash flush kidlets want to buy and play again and again. If those kidlets complete Level Five and win the game, they get big bucks -- or at least the promise of big bucks. That final Level is not only impossible to win, it's a trap from which all the kidlets cannot escape.
Don't ask about the logistics of how the kids get inside the game universe to play the game. We're too old to grasp the concept and/or missed the explanation fiddling with two pairs of glasses. Just enjoy the effects which are as colorful as the vidgame they represent.
The basics of the game grant the player nine lives in which to work through the various game levels and he is allowed one "lifeline" to call on for advice as to how to beat the game. His choice is his beloved, trapped in a wheelchair grandpa (Ricardo Montalban) who is relieved of his disability once he enters the vidgame world. The pair, aided by a quartet of beta testers (Bobby Edner, Ryan Pinkston, Robert Vito and Juni's love interest Courtney Jines) who are also trapped in the game must take down an ultimate bad guy called "The Toymaker" (Sylvester Stallone). The Toymaker has his own schizo properties, five of 'em, to deal with as he plans the destruction of the world. He is also the fiend that put Grandpa in the chair thirty years earlier, so this battle is personal.
Just about all major characters from the first two films -- Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino as mom and dad; "grandma" Holland Taylor, "uncle" Cheech Marin and ex-bad guys (sic) Alan Cumming and Tony Shalhoub -- make minor appearances in 3D. Setting the film inside a video game means a lot of fast changing scenes and "dangerous" scenarios which kick by at a speed any thirteen year old can follow. We, having left thirteen behind years ago, felt as if we were left in the dust.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Spy Kids 3D: Game Over, he would have paid . . .
If you've got kidlets, take 'em and have an enjoyable time. Grownups who enjoyed editions one and two, take a date and buy the big popcorn.
From our point of view, though, we don't plant to watch the kids. We plant to see Carla Gugino in black leather. Not only did we not get that, Gugino is virtually invisible in the film. Darn.
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