Latest 'Spy Kids' has lots of 3D fun, too little heart

Robert Rodriguez was the writer, director, editor, production designer, director of photography, composer and producer for his new sequel "Spy Kids 3D: Game Over," the latest saga of the Spy Family Cortez. So it makes sense that he, being such a busy fellow, might forget a few things — such as, most of the characters who made his first two films so delightful.

Where the heck is Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming, shown briefly in to-die-for purple velvet)? Or Dinky Winks (Bill Paxton, likewise in a don't-look-down-at-your-popcorn-or-you'll-miss-him cameo)? Or mad scientist Romeo (Steve Buscemi, ditto)? Or Dad (Antonio Banderas) and Mom (Carla Gugino), who show up only in the last few minutes, despite their star billing? Or, for that matter, big sister Carmen (Alexa Vega, now a lovely teen), who goes missing for the first hour of the movie? Surely all these people's agents can't be that difficult to get on the phone.

Anyway, go ahead and call this one "Spy Kid," because it's all about young Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara), who must enter the world's most difficult 3-D video game to rescue Carmen, who is trapped inside. (That's the story, but I think she's just off at the prom.) In he goes, and on go our special 3-D glasses for a whooshing ride.

"Spy Kids 3D: Game Over"

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With Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Ricardo Montalban, Sylvester Stallone. Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez. 84 minutes. Rated PG for action sequences and peril. Several theaters.
At a time when so many movies feel like video games ("Charlie's Angels," I'm looking at you), it's refreshing to find one that does it intentionally, and "Spy Kids 3D" really does capture that grayish darkness and hyperreal, zippy movement of a game. Unfortunately, for those who like a plot along with their car races and lava surfing, it's game over, quickly.

Juni, accompanied by his grandfather (Ricardo Montalban, amused and paternal), competes in a series of eye-popping tests, but there's a sameness to it all that makes the film's 84 minutes seem longer.

But kids, especially the sort who can't put down their GameBoys, may not be too picky about this, and Rodriguez's wild imagination offers much to perk things up. Who knew, for example, that if you take Sylvester Stallone, de-puff his face, and play him at a slightly faster speed, you get ... a Very Well-Known Actor who makes an amusing cameo here. Salma Hayek turns up as a sexily pigtailed secret agent (yes, somehow she makes the look work), and Elijah Wood glows like a supernatural hobbit in his brief appearance.

And as for the 3D technology — well, outside of an IMAX theater, this is about as good as it gets. (Note to parents: You might want to grab an extra pair of the cardboard glasses, as kids can and will break their first pair, more quickly than you ever thought possible. Never mind how I learned this.) Though the film has a few "glasses off" stretches, most of it is in cartoony, jump-off-the-screen 3D, which has the strange effect of making the likes of Stallone look even less real, and may result in mild headaches for grown-up folk. You can, of course, watch the movie without the glasses, but it has a blurry, unpleasant glare.

"Spy Kids 3D," even with its disappointments, has more energy and vividness than most kids' fare. But its great strength — the bond the kids have with their loving family — is very much watered-down here, despite a "to family!" ending that's right out of "Moonstruck." Rodriguez has announced that this is the final "Spy Kids" installment; too bad he wasn't fully on top of his game.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or