Director: Robert Rodriguez Notable Cast: Jimmy Bennett, Kat Dennings, Jolie Vanier, Jon Cryer, William H. Macy, Leslie Mann, James Spader
Keep them entertained. That’s the principal goal of any kid’s movie. If by chance the critics fall in love with it and give it praise, well then that’s just icing on the cake. However director Robert Rodriguez doesn’t need critic approval for his latest directing endeavor. If he can placate an audience of spoiled brats, worrywarts, and wiggle worms, then he’s done his job.
Full of slapstick and other comic shenanigans, Shorts is a live-action cartoon built around a mysterious wishing rock and the few who use it. Rodriguez shuffles the narrative deck by having the stories – or “episodes” as he calls them – out of order. But don’t go thinking this is Pulp Fiction for Kids. Blame the shuffled-up stories on the narrator, who also happens to be the main character, Toby “Toe” Thompson (Jimmy Bennett). He doesn’t know any better, routinely pausing and rewinding and fast-forwarding, as if he were trying to tell a joke but kept leaving something out. Or it could just be a case of ADD.
The story takes place in the town of Black Falls, a suburban community where all the adults work for Mr. Black (James Spader). Black is an electronics mogul who has created a gadget with a thousand-and-one uses. Phone, can opener, baby monitor, bullhorn – his “Black Box” is an electronic Swiss Army knife that will do virtually anything. But this newfangled device has yet to make a huge dent on the consumer front, leaving him dissatisfied.
Mr. Black’s two children share his humorless attitude. Helvetica (newcomer Jolie Vanier) and older sibling Cole (Devon Gearheart) love to bully Toby. They throw rocks at him and stuff him into trashcans whenever possible. The tables are turned the day Toby finds a rainbow-colored wishing rock and asks for friends that share his peculiarities. His granted wish: tiny aliens that pack a punch.
That’s one episode. Other episodes include three crazy bothers named Loogie, Lug and Laser who come into possession of the rock and wind up creating a castle with a moat of crocodiles and killer snakes. Then there’s the Blinkers, a brother and sister who engage in a staring contest. They begin the movie and pop up sporadically throughout. The grand finale is Black wanting to get his greedy little hands on the wishing rock and the fallout that comes about. Expect a giant wasp and a giant dung beetle fighting a giant robot. And if that isn’t enough giants for you, a giant human pops up as well.
Shorts is a movie that could have gone any number of ways. Though the possibilities are limitless, the wishes that are made are limited. It would be like making a birthday wish. Would you rather have world peace or turn somebody into an Oscar Meyer wiener?
Although lacking in narrative, the movie, because of its boundless energy, is a blast for kids. The time just flies by with plenty of icky things that the kids will love, like boogers and smells that will infiltrate the olfactory organs. The jokes fall flat quite a bit, but hope is restored every once in a while. Seeing Loogie try to hit on Toby’s older sister (Kat Dennings) helps, as does seeing William H. Macy going ghostbusters on a gelatinous booger creature.
Starting with his Bedhead short in 1991, Rodriguez has had quite the fascination with making motion pictures that feature kids. While this may alienate some of his older fans, wishing he’d spend more time directing movies for adults, the director has a devil may care attitude. He began as a rebel without a crew. Now today, Rodriguez continues to make the movies he wants to make with little studio interference. He’s hands-on like John Carpenter (Halloween, Big Trouble in Little China); able to write, direct, edit, produce, and even lay down the musical score. Shorts is just another example of Rodriguez showing off the capabilities of his Troublemaker Studios.
In a cast that features William H. Macy and James Spader, the movie’s biggest surprise is Jolie Vanier. She is the lone standout performer as the female bully with braces. Her character an emo kid clothed in black. Not unlike Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams in the Addams Family features.
From a financial standpoint, it would be wish fulfillment to say Shorts will have the commercial appeal of Rodriguez’s Spy Kids franchise. Small children are sure to enjoy it, but probably won’t want to see it more than once. It’ll be one last hurrah before school starts.
(Note: In an interesting twist, Shorts opens the same day as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. The directors find themselves competing against one another two years after their Grindhouse collaboration fizzled in theaters.)
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!