Spy Kids 3-D.
I knew it was going to be difficult to follow up Spy Kids 2
, so I went into the theater cautious but hopeful. The movie's technical accomplishments are notable but, combined with some script issues, lead to the movie's problems. These problems make the film less enjoyable than its predecessors.
The 3D technology that Robert Rodriguez used for the film was invented by James Cameron -- it keeps the two DV cameras in sync, making it much easier to shoot a vast portion of your movie in 3D. The problem is, it still requires the red/blue glasses that, by their nature, wash out a wide spectrum of color, leaving the film with a dull cast punctuated by a few spots of extremely bright yellows and greens. The glasses you pick up from the ticket counter are the same old cheap cardboard-and-cellophane jobs you've been using since Bwana Devil (if you're extremely old) or the planned 3D episode of Moonlighting* (if you're just really old (like me)), and so they are not exactly precision optical instruments. I am not an expert on this stuff, but I think that because the glasses are so haphazardly thrown together, a blurred picture is almost a certainty. So as I followed the film's on-screen "GLASSES ON" directive (15 minutes in), I was immediately disappointed by the dull color pallette and blurry focus. Over the next 30 minutes, watching the movie became a little bit fatiguing, because I simply couldn't get a clear focus on the screen. It made matters worse that the 3D effects were not that impressive anyway. There were only a few moments that made you say "Wow", whereas in Spy Kids 2, there are almost countless moments that inspire the same reaction, without the need for 3D.
As Roger Ebert noted in his review, once you realize that the 3D is an obstacle, not an enhancement, you have to try to find value in the movie's narrative and the characters, essentially ignoring the optical tricks. This proved difficult, too. In this movie, RR decided to concentrate on Juni, instead of both Juni and Carmen, and so you miss all the chemistry between those two, and you get a little tired of looking at Juni in every shot. This is set-up in the plot by Carmen's being held captive inside a video game, but I wondered why RR didn't just have one of the parents stuck inside the video game, instead? I guess he figured it would be too complicated to have both kids running around in 3D all the time.
Since the first Spy Kids, RR has spent a lot of time in his scripts underlining the importance of family, belief in yourself, and teamwork. In this way, all three movies are very moral films, more so than anything else I've from Hollywood in recent years. In this movie, though, the messages began to feel a little heavy-handed towards the end, where every third line of dialog or so seems to convey a lesson about how to be a good kid. I admire RR for working these messages into his picture, but I think he lost the subtle touch from the first two.
He did a great job with casting his child actors this time, though, and there are a lot of them, including Demetra, who is sort of Juni's love interest and who looks and acts like a 10-year-old version of Trinity from The Matrix. Ricardo Montalban revives his role as Juni's grandfather, and it's an interesting role because RR puts a Mech-like suit on Montalban and turns him into an action hero, even though Montalban, in real life, requires a wheelchair because of back-surgery-gone-bad. (In one scene in the movie, RM's character confronts the villain who put him in his wheelchair, and you can sort of see RM directing his rage at the doctors who messed him up in real life.) This villain, as it happens, is played by Sylvester Stallone. Let me tell you something, reluctantly: SS cannot act. He's had so many chances -- most notably, Copland and now this movie -- and he just can't do it. His performance is so muddled you get almost no sense of his character's motivations, desires, personality, etc. It's not even funny. Worse, he plays four characters in the film, which is fine if you're Peter Sellers (or even Eddie Murphy), but if you have the obviously limited range of SS, it's not a good idea. RR's script does play off of SS as an actor though, and has him quote/paraphrase some Rocky lines during a boxing match between Juni and another character. The rest of the cast -- Salma Hayek, as the pigtailed wife of Mike Judge, Antonio, Carla Gugino, Alan Cumming, Tony Shalhoub -- are in the film for a combined total of about 15 minutes and are practically invisible. It seems like everyone except for the kids could have got out of there after 1 or 2 days work.
Because of the effort involved in watching the movie in its 3D form, I'm eager to see the DVD, where presumably I'll be able to relax and watch the movie in just two dimensions. For the big screen release, though, the lack of a lot of characters, the simplicity of the themes, and the absence of visual inventiveness that so defined SK2 combine to give this movie an unfortunate lack of depth, surprising for a film shot in 3D.