For a brief stretch in the early '80s, franchises seemed almost obligated to release their third installments in 3-D, from the thrusting machetes of Friday The 13th Part 3: 3-D to the so-real-you-can-almost-touch-the-sweat-on-Louis Gossett Jr.'s-head effects of Jaws 3-D. Almost unavoidably, Robert Rodriguez's third Spy Kids film improves on that dubious tradition, using carefully choreographed computer effects and a fair amount of old-fashioned finger-poking to make the most of 3-D technology that's been left more or less unchanged since the '50s. It would risk feeling like a gimmick, if it didn't keep perfectly with the series' tradition of reviving classic B-movie devices for the digital age. Like Golden Age adventure movies, the Spy Kids films have always been driven more by likable characters and over-the-top setpieces than by a need for frame-by-frame technical perfection. Rodriguez knows that for kids, and for a lot of grownups, it's okay to be a little sloppy in pursuit of fun. If there's a big fight scene involving giant robot apes, for example, it doesn't really matter that it unfolds against undoctored footage of the Texas State Capitol. Each Spy Kids film has maintained an odd balance between the state-of-the-art and the handcrafted. The digital effects wouldn't have been possible even five years ago, but the seat-of-the-pants storytelling–not to mention production design driven more by whimsy than mechanical believability–makes the films feel like elaborate, expertly made home movies. (And, as anyone familiar with Rodriguez's home-laboratory approach to filmmaking knows, that's not too far from what they are.) Taking place almost entirely inside a virtual-reality video game, hence the excuse for the 3-D, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over pits littlest spy kid Daryl Sabara against diabolical villain The Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone), whose new game has the power to ensnare its players in his virtual world. Stallone has already captured Sabara's sister (Alexa Vega), forcing Sabara to join the game himself, with the assistance of some fellow players and grandfather Ricardo Montalban, who seeks to settle an old score with Stallone. Filled with video-game in-jokes, Spy Kids 3 comes roaring to life in action scenes based on different gaming genres, each of which takes full advantage of the 3-D effects. The Tron-inspired story doesn't follow any consistent logic, though it still makes more sense than the second Matrix movie, but as usual, the humor and the gentle insistence on the importance of family carry the day. Sure, keen viewers might notice that the actors' feet don't always touch the "ground" of their virtual worlds, but given glowing bike races, robot gladiators, unexpected celebrity cameos, and the chance to wear 3-D glasses again, only a curmudgeon could complain.
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