Dir: Robert Rodriguez. US. 2003. 89mins.

The final episode in Robert Rodriguez's family adventure series is an effective strictly-for-kids action feature which has already proved its mettle with a whopping $32.5m opening at the US box office last weekend. Set mostly within a computer game, the film was conceived and shot in 3-D and requires audiences to wear free 3-D glasses, an added attraction for kids which will also swell its grosses in international territories where the first two Spy Kids films failed to generate the same fan base as in North America ($38.5m and $36m totals respectively).

Rodriguez - who wrote, co-produced, directed, shot, production designed and edited this film - has achieved a fine balance of the human and the hi-tech in the Spy Kids films, which espouse family values and humility while also keeping "cool" thanks to solid storytelling and cheesily fun effects. Game Over ups the cheese factor courtesy of the oh-so-1990s video game setting and the appearance of that old ham Sylvester Stallone.

Stallone is The Toymaker, whose new video game Game Over is actually an evil device with which he intends to take over the minds of the world's youth. Enter Juni (Sabara), the youngest of the Cortez family, who has left OSS, the government secret agency he worked for, to set up his own private investigation firm. He is contacted by the president (a cameo by George Clooney) to help find his missing sister who has gone missing in the virtual reality world of Game Over.

Guided into the game world by OCC agents Donnagan and Francesca Giggles (played by Judge and Hayek), Juni must reach level four to find his sister and ensure that The Toymaker does not escape from the game into the real world.

In the virtual world - a dazzlingly created CGI backdrop - Juni enlists the help of his grandfather (Montalban) and a group of beta testers (Edner, Jines, Pinkston & Vito) in his quest to win contests and go from level to level while not losing too many of his nine lives. Finally, on level four, he finds his sister (Vega) but is unaware that his grandfather and The Toymaker have a bitter history and that his grandfather could threaten the safety of the planet if he lets his nemesis escape the game world.

The film is a vehicle for the amiable Sabara who is in almost every frame, while his spy family barely gets a look in. Top-billed parents Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino have tiny cameos in the final five minutes alongside other actors from the three films - Alan Cumming, Holland Taylor, Danny Trejo, Steve Buscemi, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin and Bill Paxton. Stallone has fun as The Toymaker, also donning costume as the villain's three alter egos.

Alan Cumming as Floop introduces the film and tells the audience to respond to on-screen instructions as to when to don glasses and when to take them off. The 3-D effects themselves are gentle (as compared to the in-your-face shocks of 80s sequels like Jaws 3-D and Amityville 3-D), although a Mad Max-style race sequence and some lava surfing action are somewhat dizzying on the eye and stomach.

Prod co: Troublemaker Studios
US dist: Dimension Films
Int'l sales:
Miramax International
Exec prods:
Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein
Elizabeth Avellan, Robert Rodriguez
Scr/cinematography/prod des/ed/music:
Main cast:
Daryl Sabara, Sylvester Stallone, Alexa Vega, Mike Judge, Salma Hayek, Bobby Edner, Courtney Jines, Ryan James Pinkston, Ricardo Montalban, Robert Vito