'Tron' for the peanut-butter set

'Spy Kids 3-D,' set inside a computer world, combines 3-D and digital technology

"Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over" plugs into the tradition of jazzing up a successful movie franchise by filming the third installment in 3-D.

Its predecessors include such illustrious fare as "Jaws 3-D" and "Friday the 13th Part 3: 3-D."

What gives "Spy Kids 3-D" a slightly distinctive edge is that its video-game visual style is ideally suited to its story, in which young Juni enters a computer-generated world to rescue his sister Carmen from imprisonment by the Toymaker, the villain of the tale.

"Spy Kids 3-D" takes advantage of the latest technology, using a combination of 3-D optics and digital video pioneered by James Cameron in the Imax movie "Ghosts of the Abyss," his recent "Titanic" spinoff.

Still, my favorite thing about the picture is that you watch most of it through 3-D spectacles of nostalgic 1950s vintage, with plain red and blue lenses instead of fancy polarized ones or bulky Imax eye-masks.

The premise of the story has a slight retro tilt as well, recalling the 1982 fantasy "Tron," also set inside a computer world.

Hoping to sell tickets across the entire span of age groups, director Robert Rodriguez has surrounded kid-size stars Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega with a gaggle of famous faces including old-timer Ricardo Montalban as their unstoppable grandpa, Antonio Banderas as their loyal dad, Salma Hayek as a brilliant scientist, and Sylvester Stallone as the Toymaker with a trio of Toymaker clones.

All do their best to treat the gimmicky fantasy as a regular movie, which isn't easy in a picture that interrupts its own action with instructions to "Put On Glasses" whenever the movie morphs from 2-D reality to 3-D phantasmagoria.

In sum, it's a quintessential summer film, especially if you're 8 years old and in the mood for a quick dose of mindless fun.

Rated PG; contains mild violence.

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