Tex-Mex director Robert Rodriguez shook up the movie world in 1992 by making his hit shoot-’em-up debut, El Mariachi, for a grand total of $7,225 — particularly since it was full of jolting action, blood, sexy ways and a wicked sense of humor. Within a few years, he followed with Desperado (1995) and From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), which were fun, freaky and fiscally successful. But when he began the Spy Kids series in 2001 many of us really sat up and dropped our popcorn. Brimming with fresh ideas, smart dialogue and visual flair, chapter one introduced the lovable brother-sister team of Juni and Carmen Cortez (Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega) as a pair of pre-adolescent, government secret agents and filled out the cast with hip Hollywooders Antonio Banderas, Richard Linklater, Alan Cumming, Teri Hatcher, Cheech Marin et al. (Pretty much the same gang came back for chapter two and this third installment.) The comfortable way that Rodriguez foregrounds his Hispanic roots just adds to the series’ charm.
Geezer: Finally, here’s a movie we’re really split over. I liked Spy Kids 3-D — I had a lot of fun watching it. Rodriguez shows a continuing sense of humor in his films from El Mariachi on, no matter what else is happening, whether it be horror, action or kid stuff. Normally I wouldn’t have gone to see this, since it’s in 3-D, which mostly gives me a headache ...
Weezer: I wouldn’t either ...
Geezer: But I like the kids — they’re endearing, funny and cool. I like the whole matter-of-fact, Hispanic undertone to everything, which is a gas.
Weezer: The uncles are played by Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo (as a guy named Machete). Trejo is in all of Rodriguez’s projects, From Dusk Till Dawn, Desperado, and a lot of action films.
Geezer: So why don’t you like this flick?
Weezer: There’s something really warm about the first Spy Kids. It’s playful, yet kind of cool. The mom and dad are secret agents who get captured, so the kids, who aren’t agents, have to save them — and there’s an evil-clone, spy-kid robot. Alan Cumming plays this crazy TV host who lives in a giant, weird mansion, with all these thumb guys running around. That’s really creepy and creative. But the well has run dry on the series — I don’t think it even deserved a second installment. This third part is like a combination of the TV show “Johnny Quest” and a kiddie version of Tron from 20 years ago — but less interesting. Tron, though it was low-tech, had a serious backdrop — computers were just starting to come on strong, and people were afraid of them, so the story is about being trapped inside one. But in Spy Kids 3-D, you have these goofy kids in ridiculous-looking plastic armor, delivering really punny jokes that didn’t make me laugh. And I thought the action was boring. I guess if I were 8, this might have been entertaining.
Geezer: That’s too bad, because I’m usually far away from this stuff, but I just thought there were really cute touches, like some of the computer jokes. The little girl who played Demetra (Courtney Jines) was wonderful. They made her look like a Japanese anime character, with her hair coming down in her face. I laughed a lot and, yeah, it’s a waste of time, but it takes the whole computer-game culture we’re living in and puts a satirical spin on it.
I’ll give you one thing, though: I grew up in the ’50s watching 3-D movies and they were mostly used for horror, sci-fi, some action and comedy. There was one freaky Three Stooges movie in 3-D. You’re in the dentist’s chair and they’re the dentists working on you, and it’s really brutal. All these instruments are coming in your face and they try to give you a shot of Novocain, but the needle goes in your eyeball. But 3-D was a short-lived phenomenon, partly because it always wears on your eyes.
Weezer: This movie looked really blurry the whole time — it was distracting. Maybe my glasses were defective, but I have a suspicion that that’s the best 3-D can look. I remember reading 3-D comic books with those glasses and I didn’t have that problem. I know the filmmakers are trying to get the audience interacting with the screen, but putting the glasses on and taking them off all the time was a pain in the butt too. 3-D’s a nostalgic gimmick. I can’t imagine trying to take myself seriously as a filmmaker working in 3-D.
And another thing, I play a lot of video games, and for the most part Spy Kids 3-D really blew it. Think about it: You can put any kind of strange worlds, creatures, weapons or gear that you want — really inventive stuff — in there. But aside from a few cool details, the backgrounds in this movie are bland and gray. Real video games are in vivid color and want to grab your attention.
And then, in the end, the kids just walk out of the video game without any problem. It’s so anti-climactic. Giving this more than one star is an insult.
George Tysh (Geezer) is the Metro Times arts editor. Bruno Tysh (Weezer) is a recent high school graduate. E-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.