Whether you like his movies or not, you’ve got to be impressed by Robert Rodriguez’ drive. In barely a decade, he’s written, produced, directed, etc. two whole trilogies (not to mention From Dusk Till Dawn, The Faculty, the best of the Four Rooms and the made-for-TV “Roadracers”). I’m personally fonder of his “El Mariachi” flicks, but the Spy Kids movies have been fun too… until now.

While the first two were also silly FX-packed kiddie adventures, they had charm, wit and heart, and newcomers Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega formed a winning duo as spy siblings Juni and Carmen Cortez. Unfortunately, “Game Over” is almost completely devoid of the affectionate bickering between the kids that filled the previous episodes: Vega isn’t even on screen until the last 20 minutes! It’s amusing at first how Juni’s introduced like a film noir character, working on his own as a private detective after having grown fed up of being manipulated by the OSS. But no sooner does he feel like he got out, they pull him right back in. Carmen is prisoner of an elaborate virtual reality environment programed by the ingeniously insane Toymaker, and only Juni can save his sister.

So basically, the rest of the film is literally a video game, with Juni going through a series of unrelated levels: Pogo Sticks, Robot Fight, the Mega Race, Lava Surfing… And as if Rodriguez’ usual visual style wasn’t already dynamic enough, most of “Game Over” is in actual 3-D, which means you have to put on dinky little red-side/blue-side cardboard glasses and that every other shot has characters throwing stuff at the audience. This is amusing for a while, but it grows mighty tiresome. Maybe that’s because I’m a lazy-eyed old fart, but even if the 3-D gimmick doesn’t wear you out physically, eventually you’ll grow bored of these empty FX thrills. Does this even qualify as film anymore? 90% of “Spy Kids 3-D” is all-CGI, with less storytelling and character development than in a Super Mario game.

The one thing that held my attention was the endless cameos from Rodriguez’s movie star pals: George Clooney, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi, Tony Shalhoub, Danny Trejo, Alan Cumming, Bill Paxton, Mike Judge, Spy parents Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino (and grampa Ricardo Montalban), and even a surprise appearance by one of the guys from The Faculty. Last but not least is Sylvester Stallone, enjoyably ridiculous as not only the Toymaker but three other goofy-looking dudes!

The screening I attended was a bring-the-kids presentation for the press and employees of Hybride, a local visual effects studio. Their work is admirable, as are all the technical aspects of “Spy Kids 3D: Game Over” (especially when you consider how fast and low-budgeted the post-production was), but from what I could see even the youngest moviegoers seemed to feel that all the pop-up flash in the world can’t make up for a lack of laughs and imagination.