When Spy Kids came out, I gave it an unqualified five out of five. When Spy Kids 2 followed, I was less delighted, but felt it worth four out of a possible five. Now along comes movie No. 3, and I find the series losing yet another point. If Rodriguez keeps this up much longer, I’ll soon be throwing out negative numbers.
That said, I didn’t actually dislike Spy Kids 3-D — and that’s a pretty strong endorsement of a film that gave me a raging headache — literally. Of course, it wasn’t the movie itself that was responsible for making me feel like I was the poster boy for a 1960s Anacin commercial. It was Rodriguez’s insistence on making the damned thing in anaglyphic 3-D.
Making the movie in 3-D wasn’t itself a bad idea; the error was in making SP3-D in the format’s crudest possible form — the one with the crummy, red-and-blue cardboard glasses. In fact, the choice of this over the Polaroid form is the worst of Rodriguez’s several bad decisions in this the third installment in his Spy Kids cottage industry. Slapping colored plastic between the viewer and the director’s brilliant pop-art primary-color design is about as wrong-headed as it gets; all those gorgeous, bright colors are immediately transformed into so much muted muddle. This is doubly depressing because otherwise the film is one of the best-looking uses of digital video yet.
In terms of color saturation, Rodriguez definitely stretched the boundaries — only to then bury the whole thing in 3-D. And it’s not that 3-D isn’t fun. It is. And Rodriguez has used 3-D better than just about anyone. But because of the anaglyphic process, SP3-D frankly looks like hell. And if that was all that was wrong with it, my splitting headache might be forgivable — at least once the post-screening analgesic kicked in. Unfortunately, Rodriguez has made the less excusable mistake of making a kiddie and not a family film this time.
Not only are adults virtually written out of the movie (they mostly pop in for the final reel), but the story wrong-headedly centers on Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara), while the more appealing Carmen (Alexa Vega) spends the first half of the movie trapped (mostly offscreen) in the third or fourth level of the video game in which most of the action takes place. Without Carmen as a foil, Juni is just not interesting enough to support the movie — no matter how many CGI blobs of custard pie come hurtling “out” of the screen.
That said, there’s not much plot to SP3-D. The film revolves around getting through the video game, rescuing Carmen and thwarting the vague world-domination plans of the evil Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone); there’s just not much to hook a viewer over the age of 12. As far as the adult cast members are concerned, only Stallone and Ricardo Montalban get much screen time.
Stallone has enough trouble fleshing out one character, yet Rodriguez has him play not just the Toymaker, but also the Toymaker’s three alter-egos, with whom he constantly argues. It’s not pretty. At least Montalban — a consummate old pro — handles his assignment with a degree of authority, and gets the movie’s biggest adult laugh when he admonishes someone not to touch his wheelchair out of respect for its particular kind of upholstery. The rest of the adult cast are barely in the movie, and their presence smacks of nothing more than repaying favors to the director.
Still, it’s hard not admire SP3-D cleverness, and it will probably play well with children. However, I’m quite ready for Rodriguez to return to the adult world this fall with Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke