Some people have trouble connecting with their inner child.
Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez has the opposite problem: He can't let go of the 8-year-old within.
How else to explain the segment of his newest film, Shorts, devoted to a battle between little kids and a giant walking booger? How else to explain Shorts itself?
Most of Shorts operates on that booger level of humor. Rodriguez isn't happy unless his characters are stumbling face first into mud, falling into water or being pooped on by a pterodactyl. This stuff will probably play well with the under-10 audience. Rodriguez never aims higher than that.
Unfortunately, as imaginative as Shorts is, it's never very funny. Like Rodriguez's other kids' films (including the Spy Kids trilogy), this one aims for an anarchic vibe similar to Gremlins -- and misses. One keeps wishing that someone with the wit of Joe Dante had directed this film instead of Rodriguez.
The story -- told in nonlinear chunks by its 10-year-old narrator, Toby "Toe" Thompson (Jimmy Bennett) -- is straightforward enough, as fantasies go. One of Toe's friends in the small company town of Black Falls stumbles upon a rainbow-colored rock that grants wishes to whoever possesses it. The rock moves from person to person, most of whom make careless wishes that come comically, literally true.
The film's subplot involves the town itself, home to Black Box Industries, makers of a do-it-all gadget "that's sweeping the nation" (hello, iPhone?). Black Box, run by ruthless Carbon Black (James Spader), controls the lives of its workers, including Toe's parents (Jon Cryer and Leslie Mann).
But Rodriguez's satire -- of greedy corporate culture and materialistic obsession -- is broad and toothless. Rodriguez apparently was too busy doing other things -- doing the cinematography, editing the movie, composing the score, even creating the special effects -- to be bothered with honing the script so the jokes actually generate laughs.
Rodriguez can be an exciting, dynamic and witty director, as evidenced by films ranging from El Mariachi to Sin City to Grindhouse. He's shown a particular talent for putting meat on the bones of the thinnest genre exploitation ventures.
Eventually, his own kids will grow up -- and then, maybe, Robert Rodriguez will go back to making movies for adults full-time.
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