Robert Rodriguez is putting his extremely profitable kid’s franchise to bed with a 3-D story that is, unfortunately not as multi-dimensional as the name would imply. Three years ago the original Spy Kids seemed like a breath of fresh air, it was a colourful, exuberant affair that burst with inventiveness and humour. The inevitable sequel, 2001’s The Island of Lost Dreams, proved that there is some merit in the theory of diminishing returns, while Game Over confirms that additional incremental input will produce a declining incremental amount of output.
In other words, most sequels suck.
In this instalment older sister Carmen (Alex Vega) is being held hostage in an elaborate virtual reality videogame called Game Over, run by the evil Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone). Brother Juni, (Daryl Sabara) who has retired from the spy business to concentrate on his career as a private eye must rescue his sister and shut down the game. Once inside the cyberspace monolith he loses his heart to a brave young girl (played by Emily Osment, sister of the Oscar nominated Haley Joel), races giant motorbikes and gives the viewer a headache watching all the swirling action through flimsy red and green 3-D glasses.
Rodriguez may have based the character of the Toymaker on himself. Like the evil genius in the movie, Rodriguez appears to be lost in his own creation, too fascinated by the 3-D technology to concentrate on giving the movie any kind of plot. What little story there is simply kick-starts the action, placing Juni in the game, and thus is an excuse to rev up the special effects. Turned loose in cyberspace the film careens through forty mind-numbing minutes of Super Mario Brothers quality graphics that flip and fly through the air, and even though things appear to literally jump off the screen, Spy Kids 3-D is flat.
Spy Kids 3-D has everything the first two instalments didn’t have from cardboard characters, to headache inducing special effects all the way down to bland dialogue.
The film is packed with several “don’t blink or you’ll miss ‘em” celebrity cameos. Rodriguez pal George Clooney provides one of the film’s few legitimate laughs (Spoiler Warning!) with his subtle Sylvester Stallone impression, while Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi, Elijah Wood, Bill Paxton and Salma Hayek check in, but aren’t given much to do. Only Ricardo Montalban as the wheelchair bound grandfather seems to relish his role. Once inside the game he hams it up, trading in his chair for an animated metal superhero costume. He’s entertaining to watch because he seems to be having so much fun with the silly material. He even sneaks in a joke about “fine Corinthian leather.” It’s a line that the kids won’t get, but anyone over the age of thirty will recognize from his years as the spokesperson for Chrysler.
Montalban brings some joyfulness to the movie, and so does Stallone, it’s just a different kind of joy. It’s the kind of mean-spirited delight that comes from watching a formerly popular actor completely embarrass himself onscreen. Displaying an emotional depth that ranges from Rocky to Rambo, Stallone plays the evil Toymaker and three of his alter-egos, a nerdy scientist, a burn-out hippie and a war mongering general. The last time I heard such “hilarious” accents I was at my nine-year-old nephew’s school play.
Once Rodriguez moves the action out of the videogame the film takes on a warmer, more familiar tone, but it is too little too late. One hopes that the movie’s name is prophetic, and it really is game over for the Spy Kids franchise.