Opens: July 25
The pitch: In the third Spy Kids outing, youngster secret agent Juni (Daryl Sabara) enters a virtual video game to save the world's children -- including his captive sister Carmen (Alexa Vega) -- from the maniacal Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone).
The gimmick: Whenever Juni enters the game, which is most of the movie, the audience dons red-and-blue 3-D glasses to witness wild effects. Alan Cumming reprises his role as Fegan Floop to introduce the gimmick with a pop-up book. IMAX 3-D movies have technical superiority, but director Robert Rodriguez has a surreal blast with the format.
Money shots: A supersonic "Mega Race" includes souped-up roadsters and slapstick weapons like pies and boxing gloves. On the dark side of the moon, Juni controls a giant robot to battle a similarly armed player. Other bizarre beasties include frogs on pogo sticks and grinning, metallic King Kongs.
Pop reference: Other kids playing the game suspect that Juni may be "The Guy," a mythic figure who'll deliver them to the "unbeatable" Fifth Level. It's a subtle but hilarious spoof of "The One" business from The Matrix and sets up the year's funniest cameo from the star of a different franchise.
Best line: "I never even got her e-mail address," Juni melodramatically remarks after a potential sweetheart disappears from the game.
Extras: Outtakes during the closing credits include George Clooney's wickedly funny Stallone imitation. After the credits, the film ends with Vega and Sabara's original audition clips.
Better than the first?: It's much better than the second and would easily equal the first film's pleasures -- were it not for Stallone, who botches a multi-character comeback role. He looks like he scarcely knows how to turn on a computer, let alone program one.
The bottom line: Plot coherence runs low, especially if you're not fluent in video game jargon. But the imagination soars sky-high, with the animated scenes playing like a terrific team-up of Tron and Looney Tunes. Rodriguez comes across like a boy eager to share his cool Christmas toys, and wants parents to have as much fun as their kids.
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