Rodriguez's "Shorts" inventive, energetic fun
's colorful , enjoyable new children's fantasy film "Shorts" affirms his versatility as a filmmaker. The Texas-bred director and writer has done everything from action adventure ("Desperado," "Sin City") to horror ("The Faculty," "") to children's films (""), most of which is filmed right here in the Lone Star State (thank you, Mr. Rodriguez for bringing Texas the work). "Shorts" is unconventionally imaginative with the usual odd Rodriguez touches (a giant, evil booger steals the movie) that make for hardly smooth storytelling, but is still lively, suitable fun for the whole family.
"Shorts" takes place in the fictional Texas suburb of Black Falls, where all the houses are identical and everyone works for Black Box Industries, run by Carbon Black (), whose Black Box is the ultimate communication and do-it-all gadget that's sweeping the nation. The lonely 11-year-old Toe Thompson's ("Orphan's" Jimmy Bennett) parents (Leslie Mann and Jon Cryer) work for Mr. Black and his life is seemingly going nowhere until a mysterious rainbow-colored rock falls from the sky, hits him in the head and changes everything.
The Rainbow Rock does something fantastical: it grants wishes to anyone who holds it. Before long, wishes-gone-wrong has left the neighborhood swarming with tiny spaceships, crocodile armies, giant boogers...and outrageous magical mayhem around every corner. Toe and his newfound friends must join forces to save Black Falls from itself, discovering along the way that what you wish for is not always what you want.
In "Shorts," Rodriguez has created a nonsensical, magical and energetic romp through another of his fantasy lands where kids rule and adults make the most mistakes. While that usually is the case even in the real world, his most relevant message - be careful what you wish for - should ring true for kids who wish they had different parents, families or homes. Cute and well-cast, the writing is flawed with a fast-paced climax resolved in new agey fashion (holding hands and chanting to a rainbow) but one thing “Shorts” is not is dull.
This lack of dullness reflects Rodriguez's strengths as a director: efficient pacing and those wildly inventive (but often bizarre), colorful visuals that provide “Shorts’” more enjoyable moments (a running joke has two siblings in a “stare off”). From the croc army to the giant booger (a favorite) and sprawling insects, robots and little flying saucers, among many other things, enough energy flows to make up for his uneven storytelling. To Rodriguez’s credit – he knows his young audience and plays specifically to them - and “Shorts” non-linear, disproportionate plot (told in episodic “shorts” ala the film’s premise) will keep kids’ interest, but it often leaves the film busy and all over the place (most young ones will still enjoy it) with so much happening at once.
Along with the energetic visuals the director has assembled a cute cast of youngsters. Bennett grounds the film well as the semi-hero of the film, but when you have film characters named Helvetica (played by lovely newcomer Jolie Vanier), Nose, Laser and Lug (the latter played by one of Rodriguez's own real-life sons), there’ll be some lively moments. , William H. Macy, Spader, Cryer and Mann are all game as the cast of adults who cause more problems than the kids (Macy is especially a treat as a germa-phobe scientist whose germy son unwittingly creates the oversize booger).
"Shorts" is as good as any of the "Spy Kids" films and miles ahead of the Rodriguez dreck "Sharkboy and Lava Girl" (even if Sharkboy was played by "Twilight” hunk Taylor Lautner). "Shorts" is sprightly, vivacious fun for the whole family and solid late summer entertainment, and anytime you get a giant booger in the mix, there's bound to be more laughs than you can get on the end of your finger. Though you should always watch what you wish for, more importantly watch where you wipe that booger, otherwise it’s snot a pretty sight.