In the grand tradition of Lumber Jack-Rabbit, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare comes Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, the 3-D finale of Robert Rodriguez’s cutesy children’s franchise that now stands as frontrunner for 2003’s most mindless and physically offensive moviegoing experience. Unlike the static 3-D cameras of the past, Rodriguez’s new high-def equipment allows him to spin and twirl his camera in a variety of directions during the film’s non-stop set pieces—which means if you don’t receive a throbbing headache from the gimmicky three-dimensional effects produced by the flimsy red-and-blue eyeglasses given out at the theater, you’re bound to get one from the rapid-fire cinematographic somersaults. Rodriguez never saw a primary color he didn’t like, and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over continues the series’s trademark production design, which resembles the bastard offspring of a ménage-à-trois between a Tonka Truck, a Lego kit, and a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger.
The virtual reality video game “Game Over” that serves as the story’s battlefield pays tribute to Super Mario Bros., Tetris, and Tron, but only in terms of visual style. Unlike those classics, Rodriguez’s game has no well-specified rules governing the action, thereby sapping any potential drama in Spy Kid Juni’s successful progression from level to level. Juni (Daryl Sabara), retired from the spy business and working as a private eye, is recruited by his former employers to infiltrate Game Over and save his sister Carmen (Alexa Vega), who’s being held captive in cyberspace by the game’s nefarious creator The Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone). The Toymaker wants to enslave the world’s children, but his habit of conversing with his three distinct multiple personalities—a warmonger, an evil scientist, and a hippie, all of which are embarrassingly embodied by Stallone—makes him no scarier than the fun-loving guy from Herman’s Head.
Every actor who appeared in the first two films reappears for a requisite cameo (including George Clooney, Steve Buscemi, Alan Cumming, Mike Judge, Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Danny Trejo, Tony Shalhoub, and Haley Joel Osment’s eerily similar-looking sister Emily), each eager to impart some benign lesson about the importance of teamwork and family. Yet the film’s plot is so arbitrarily assembled and perfunctorily executed that such themes seem to have been randomly grafted onto the film; when Ricardo Montalban, as Juni’s wheelchair-bound grandfather, teaches his grandson to treat disabled people with respect, one can almost feel the director straining to instill his shallow carnival ride with some depth. Characters periodically pay lip service to the difference between perception and reality, but such a philosophical question actually speaks most forcefully to the selling of the film itself—despite a marketing campaign designed to create the impression that Rodriguez’s film is a revolution in movie magic, the truth is simply that Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over is a nausea-inducing assault on the senses.
Here’s a movie that almost dares you to challenge the quality of its image. Featuring well over 1,400 special effects shots (so says Robert Rodriguez on his commentary track), Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over is available on Disc One in its more tolerable 3-D version and on Disc Two in extra-cloying 2-D. It was difficult to judge the quality of the 3-D image beneath the migraine headache I got after two minutes of starring at the mostly blurry screen. But if you follow the disc’s optimization instructions, remove your contacts (I learned that on my own), position your couch directly in front of your TV, and if you squint a little while pressing one of the four 3-D glasses close against your face, you can actually make out the eye-popping images. As for the soft 2-D version: some shimmering here, some edge enhancement there. It’s a nice transfer, but considering that the film was shot on digital video and is so overwhelmingly effects-heavy, Rodriguez made it kind of easy for the folks at Buena Vista Home Video to get this one right. (I won’t let my moral gripes with Rodriguez’s rabid fascination with the digital format get in the way here.) As for the Dolby Digital surround: it’s spectacularly over-the-top.
I smell a narcissistic trend here. Rodriguez gave us a lesson in fast-cheap-out-of-control-ness on the DVD for Once Upon a Time in Mexico. The focus of his new "Ten Minute Film School" is the Dream Screen and how to add ordinary sound effects to "cool home movies" (the last one features the director’s kids and is actually kind of cute). Rodriguez’s commentary track is predictably high energy and offers a pleasant mix of anecdotes and techie tid-bits. For the remaining features, pop in the second disc. For pedophiles: Alexa Vega fulfills her quota as an ass-shaking Latina on "Alexa Vega In Concert," and you can take a look at the bourgeoning singer record a "trax" (the back cover, though, says "trak"-either way, my eyes are still rolling) in the studio. After "Ten Minute Film School," it’s up to you if you want to enroll in "An Adventure Into the 3rd Dimension" making-of featurette. Far better and less redundant is the effects montage "The Effects of the Game" and the "Surfing and Stunts" multi-angle featurette. Rounding out the disc is a "Big Dink, Little Dink" featurette, 3-D and 2-D versions of a Mega Race set-top game, and a bunch of Sneak Peeks for a bunch of Disney films, CD-ROMs, Spy Kids soundtracks and games.
Disney gives the big thumbs up to the nuclear American family by including only four 3-D glasses on this two-disc edition of Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over.