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'Spy Kids 3-D' is standout family fare

MOVIE REVIEW

Studded with A-list cameos, the third film in Robert Rodriguez's series doesn't need eye-popping gimmickry to be entertaining.

July 25, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

With "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over," writer-director Robert Rodriguez has managed to keep the third adventure of his pint-sized sleuths lively and engaging for audiences of all ages with the added novelty of 3-D.

All manner of projectiles zoom over the audience, which will be fun for youngsters, but with the film's sturdy story line the gimmick really wasn't necessary, even though it is used imaginatively.

What's more, the 3-D glasses -- with one red and one blue lens, much like the ones handed out for "Bwana Devil" or "House of Wax" some 50 years ago -- darken the film's beautiful palette of colors. However, the film's 3-D process produces pretty sharp images with minimal halation and, best of all, does not induce headaches.

Juni Cortez (portrayed by Daryl Sabara) regards himself as retired from the spy game when the President of the United States (George Clooney) reminds him that secret agents can never retire. Besides, he's needed for the most urgent mission imaginable: to save the youth of the world -- along with his sister, Carmen (Alexa Vega), who is trapped inside the virtual reality world of a multileveled, three-dimensional video game created by the Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone), a mad genius who wants to take over the world by controlling young minds while they are trapped inside the virtual-reality maze of his games.

The universe of the Toymaker, which resembles that of a stylized Japanese anime in its high-tech starkness, is as amazing as it is daunting. Juni will have to progress through several levels of increasingly confounding games if he is to rescue Carmen and confront the Toymaker.

Juni has been allowed to take one person along on his mission, and instead of either of his spy parents Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino), he has chosen his wise and experienced grandfather (Ricardo Montalban). He will also have the help of four young game beta-testers: leader Rez (Robert Vito), strong Arnold (Ryan Pinkston), brainy Francis (Bobby Edner) and tough-minded Demetra (Courtney Jines).

They are cyber whiz kids who test games before the products are put on the market, but Juni must first win their respect and trust if he is to receive their support. Juni will also be guided by OSS agents Cesca (Salma Hayek) and Donnagon Giggles (Mike Judge), but in the crunch he will also have to rely on himself if he is to save the day.

Juni will take on a large array of ingenious challengers that attest to the imagination and skill of the film's design and technical teams. He'll have to face down everything from giant robots to huge toads on pogo sticks and participate in a rip-roaring unicycle race and even lava surfing.

In a large cast studded with A-list cameos, Daryl's resilient Juni and Montalban's heroic grandfather rightly dominate. It is gratifying to see Montalban (who also was in "Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams") in a major role after a six-decade career. He's embraced everything from Esther Williams to "Fantasy Island" to the second "Star Trek" movie -- in which he played the memorably wrathful Khan -- to Shakespeare.

Giving further dimension to the film is that the grandfather's wisdom and experience could be undermined by his longing for revenge against his old nemesis, the Toymaker.

The presence of Stallone as the Toymaker is amusing casting, and while he certainly is menacing and tries to get into the tongue-in-cheek spirit of the occasion, his touch is pretty heavy. Rounding out Juni and Carmen's relatives are Holland Taylor as their grandmother, Cheech Marin as Uncle Felix and Danny Trejo as Uncle Machete. Also returning: Tony Shalhoub as the genetically mutable Minion; Bill Paxton as lasso-master cowboy Dinky Winks; Steve Buscemi as mad inventor Romero; and Alan Cumming as Floop, who alerts viewers when to put on their 3-D glasses.

"Spy Kids 3-D" is a good example of complex Hollywood wizardry placed in the service of sharp, intelligent family entertainment.

*

'Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over'

MPAA rating: PG, for action sequences and peril.

Times guidelines: Family entertainment.

Daryl Sabara...Juni Cortez

Ricardo Montalban...Grandfather Cortez

Alexa Vega...Carmen Cortez

Sylvester Stallone...Toymaker

Salma Hayek...Cesca Giggles

A Dimension Films presentation of a Troublemaker Studios production. Robert Rodriguez is writer, director, editor, production designer, and composer. Executive producers Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein. Producers Elizabeth Avellan, Robert Rodriguez. Visual effects supervisors Robert Rodriguez, Daniel Leduc. Costumes Nina Proctor. Art director/set dresser Jeanette Scott. Set designer Ronn Basquette. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

In general release.

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