Don't tell anybody because we don't want to get him in trouble, but filmmaker Robert Rodriguez has been getting away with something you're not supposed to be able to get away with in Hollywood: he's been making a personal, unconventional, idiosyncratic-bordering-on-nutso series of films on the studio dime. With their dreamlike flow and WILLY WONKA-esque eccentric characters, the SPY KIDS movies seem to come spilling directly out of Rodriguez's subconscious unfiltered by adult logic, much less the hyper-clarifying, generic-izing script development process imposed on most mainstream pictures of this type.
With their tendency to change the rules of their storylines every five minutes in a manner that can befuddle linear-thinking adults but leaves children shrieking in delight, the SPY KIDS films don't feel like they were made by somebody bending the standard formulas; they feel like they were made by somebody who never heard of the standard formulas. Whether or not these films are to your taste and many grown-ups won't be able to take more than a half hour of one you've got to love that the child-at-heart Rodriguez has been able to put such a creative, original spin on them.
In the third installment in the series, SPY KIDS 3-D: GAME OVER, writer-director-producer-editor-cinematographer-production designer-music composer Rodriguez once again eschews the tried and true by branching out with a different kind of story focused mainly on the male half of the brother-and-sister Spy Kids duo, Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara) in fact, Juni's sister co-lead Carmen (Alexa Vega) doesn't become a major presence in the story until about halfway in. As the film begins, Juni has quit the OSS spy agency and set himself up as a private detective an excuse for Rodriguez to briefly parody yet another genre but the president of the United States (George Clooney) soon convinces the superspying squirt to return to the job with the news that Carmen has become trapped in a virtual-reality videogame while on an important assignment.
With the computer support of OSS personnel in the "real" world (King of the Hill creator Mike Judge and Rodriguez favorite Salma Hayek), Juni must plunge into the game's reality and face the villainous software designer known as the Toymaker (a stiff Sylvester Stallone, sadly miscast in a broadly played baddie part). Juni's companions on this adventure are a group of young beta-testers who are playing their way through the game's levels dressed in the requisite TRON-style colorful battle suits. Most notable among these is a pint-sized femme fatale (the heartbreakingly cute Courtney Jines, done up exactly like an anime heroine) who soon has Juni's head spinning. When the game allows Juni a "lifeline" to call someone from the real world into the game to help him (huh?), he selects the wheelchair-bound Grandpa Cortez (Ricardo Montalban), who soon receives a "power-up" allowing him to walk again within the game's virtual universe.
While familiar characters such as the Cortez kids' spy parents (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) are absent for most of the movie, Rodriguez makes up for it in an action finale that brings together nearly every significant character from the franchise. The filmmaker uses this sequence to once again pound home the series' running theme: the importance of family and friends. Banderas' idealized father figure, for example, is introduced at the climax of a scientific experiment he describes as the most important moment of his life, but he tosses aside all thoughts of selfish personal achievement and rushes to the rescue the instant he learns that his children need him. In another touching moment, Montalban's Grandpa Cortez makes a plea for looking past the aging bodies of seniors to see the spirit within them a fine sentiment for kids to hear in our increasingly youth-centric, beauty-obsessed culture.
Bringing things together the way Rodriguez does at the end of the film means that SPY KIDS 3-D would serve as a perfect ending for the series should he choose not to continue with it (it's hard to imagine that the womanly-looking, 15-year-old Vega, in particular, has too many more "kid" parts left in her). On the other hand, finishing the film on such a high note is sure to leave fans wanting more. Either way, it's clear that after stumbling a bit with director-for-hire work on the uneven horror shows FROM DUSK TIL DAWN and THE FACULTY, Rodriguez is at last starting to fulfill the potential hinted at in his impressive early work on the EL MARIACHI/DESPERADO series (to be revisited, thank goodness, in the upcoming ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO). We can hardly wait to see what he'll come up with next.