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Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (Robert Rodriguez, 2003)


    Considering their massive box-office and home video success, it’s obvious that Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids movies are enjoyable to someone, but I can’t help but notice that I’m not one of those people. I skipped the second because I hated the first (reports that it was inferior left me exasperated), and I regret getting suckered into the third entry into this wholly disposable franchise. To me, Daryl Sabara, the lead actor in the three films, is one of the most unappealing screen presences in modern cinema. His complete lack of charisma renders these hollow movies even emptier. A long history of bad child performances has lowered the community standard, I suppose, but his extraordinarily insufficient screen presence is almost unforgivable. In a media culture that is quick to jump on the lack of chemistry between on screen pairs like Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, why should this untalented pre-teen be given a free pass? Perhaps if critics attacked his performances savagely, Rodriguez wouldn’t have made the boneheaded move of toning down the ensemble in the third film so that Sabara could assume a lead role.


    Spy Kids 3-D­’s writer/director/producer/editor/production designer/visual effects supervisor/composer/cinematographer Rodriguez sometimes manages to dazzle with his genre exercises (especially with From Dusk 'Till Dawn, which had the benefit of a solid Tarantino script), but he seems far too taken with his own enjoyment in making this film for it to achieve any sort of weight. They aren’t built to hold any emotional resonance, and he should have the sense to realize that. The series of feel-good aphorisms spouted here (most dubiously by a wheelchair-bound grandpa) give what feel like morals, but they are so obligatory that they are almost offensive. If Rodriguez was content to simply present these movies as a thrill ride they'd be less risible to me, but as is, they approach torture. He insists on being everything to everyone, and by doing that is pandering to his audience.


    When one strips away the gimmick of 3-D glasses, the gimmick of celebrity cameos, the gimmick of CGI effects, and the gimmick of casting children as super-spies, there’s literally almost nothing left here. Though Rodriguez’s seeming one-man operation is somewhat impressive in concept, the results are decidedly inferior to most action/adventure fare.  The franchise’s typically ugly special effects and art direction are somewhat masked here by the use of headache inducing 3-D glasses, but it's scarcely an improvement for this uniquely unattractive cycle of movies. Though the first film had some inherent freshness in its premise, by now, the string of sequels is simply going through the motions, recycling images that we’ve previously seen and trying to continue to surprise us as stars reprise their cameos. The series seems to have morphed into a shallow spectacle in which even the glitz can’t impress any longer. With luck, Rodriguez will learn something from Spy Kids 3-D’s artistic failures (though its financial success is rather discouraging).




Jeremy Heilman