There must be a better way to provide mass entertainment than “Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over.” In fact, there are better ways of recent vintage: “Spy Kids” (2001) and “Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams” (2002).
Robert Rodriguez made them, with the charm of whimsy plus rather cheapo, retro-fest effects, a cutely eager cast and a sprinkle of Hispanic names and motifs.
But multiethnic success has led to the old trap of budget bloat and its dire symptoms: a numb plot, effects mania, compulsive attitude.
Now the boyish Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara) is a private investigator, the rest of his family away spying, and Juni is pulled into the evil video game empire of the Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone).
He must rise through levels, liberate sister Carmen (Alexa Vega) and prove himself as the Guy.
Mostly he must surf through gaudy storms of computerized effects, often in 3-D (yes, you wear glasses).
In ye olden golden days of “Bwana Devil,” 3-D was a tickle.
But it wore out fast for obvious reasons: The sight of things being hurled from the middle of the screen into your lap is a thrill that bears only limited duplication, partly because most of the screen stays 2-D and your attention feels crudely funnelled by a master of dumb revels.
That fairly well sums up the role of Stallone. At one point, there are four of him on screen as he mugs and does “funny” accents. In 3-D, the effect is Sly times four to the third power.
That neatly defines acting hell, especially since this strange star still seems like Rock Hudson merged with Burt Lancaster at a Jack LaLanne gym in New Jersey.
There are robots and blue-tongued monsters and frantic chases. Backdrops often suggest a nostalgia migraine caused by the 1950s films of George Pal or even the 1890s films of Georges Melies.
The main problem, apart from being trapped in a bad video game, is that the movie, cheeky but mindless, and so expensively pointless, isn’t about anything.
Providing their own stellar voids are major cameo guests, George Clooney and Salma Hayek.
Late in the show, as the game expires in a titanic wheeze (it’s called Game Over, and boy do we want that to be true), the “Spy Kids” regulars (Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Danny Trejo, Steve Buscemi, Cheech Marin) drop in to rousingly affirm family values. PC, meet Zzzzzzz.
For a while, leathery (that’s Corinthian leather) grandpa Ricardo Montalban is liberated by animation from a wheelchair to clank around in a huge metal suit. Montalban is always a kick, but the movie is about as Hispanic as a pinata made in Taiwan.
David Elliott is the movie critic of The San Diego Union-Tribune. © 2003 by the Copley News Service.