DIR: Robert Rodriguez • WRI: Robert Rodriguez, Álvaro Rodríguez • PRO: Elizabeth Avellan, Robert Rodriguez • DOP: Robert Rodriguez • ED: Ethan Maniquis Robert Rodriguez • DES: Steve Joyner • CAST: Jon Cryer, William H. Macy, Leslie Mann, James Spader

Robert Rodriguez’ latest directorial effort is yet another hyperactive diversion for kids – after the partially entertaining Spy Kids series and The (Excruciating) Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl – it’s a natural continuation of the deteriorating coherence in this strand of his career. Gone are the days of the shoe-string budget innovation of El mariachi and From Dusk Till Dawn; now Rodriguez seems to be swimming in resources and all out of solid ideas as he alternates between the ultra-violent contrivances of Sin City or the pointedly B-movie Planet Terror – and cashing in on a void in the market of kids movies. His intention seems increasingly to be style over substance, this time plenty of cheap and cheerful effects and a tacky disjointed structure instead of an actual story – all catering to tots with zero attention-spans and a penchant for blatant wish-fulfillment.

Incidentally, the main catalyst for the story is a ‘Rainbow Rock’, a multi-coloured wishing stone designed to realize the desires of anyone whose hands it may fall into – consequently it is utilised to mostly disastrous effects by many a moronic child in the neighbourhood. After an entertaining initial segment, in which a brother and sister challenge each other to an epic staring contest (which lasts not only during breakfast, but throughout the school day and back at home during dinner, even at night as they brush their teeth) – the movie then switches perspective several times in a pattern that feels less like a series of ingeniously interwoven shorts that make up a satisfying whole and more like an excuse to tie together half-baked concepts involving giant booger monsters and CGI crocodiles on their hind legs. Hardly the ‘Pulp Fiction for kids’ Rodriguez himself has pitched it as.

A scene involving a three brothers playing video games on their multiple plasma TVs sees one of the boys standing up in front of the screens announcing, ‘I’m bored of video games’ to which the others respond: ‘We’ve been through this already… there’s nothing else to do.’ It’s that kind of ADD-friendly mentality that this movie seems to represent – even fast-forwarding and rewinding sections of the story to get to the next ludicrous action set-piece. However there are some bright spots amidst the mess of inanity – the mere presence of William H. Macy’s nerdy charm as a mad-cap OCD scientist raising his son on anti-bacterial wipes, and Leslie Mann’s patented glacial blondeness as one half of corporate couple dealing with miscommunication – may be enough to tide over some movie-minded parents – even if both actors are given next to nothing to do and are mostly surrounded by a slew of TV and tween stars.

Unfortunately these turgid tales never develop into anything substantially entertaining, instead culminating in a haphazard climax more likely to leave you non-plussed than thrilled. Ultimately this is a kids movie not aimed at nurturing their imagination or creative potential, nor interested in appealing to parents with more subversive humour or insight, instead reveling in endlessly irritating rivalries between brace-faced pre-teens and misbehaving brothers – it’s a garish pebbledash adventure with zero gravity and a hollow core that may appeal to some children (and not necessarily their most positive compulsions) but is completely disposable for everyone else.

Eoghan McQuinn
(See biog here)

Rated PG (See IFCO website for details)
Shorts is released on 21st August 2009

Shorts – Official Website

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