Rodriguez indulges his inner child in goofy ‘Shorts’

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, August 20, 2009 5:24pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The frantic imagination of Robert Rodriguez can’t possibly stick to one thing: When he’s not cranking out wild action fare such as “Sin City” and “Grindhouse,” he’s working on movies for children — notably the “Spy Kids” series.

With his new one, “Shorts,” Rodriguez returns to kiddie material — but he can’t quite play it straight. This hopped-up comedy unfolds as a series of short films arranged around a single story, told nonchronologically.

If that sounds confusing, it’s not. What we’ve got here, once you unravel it, is a magical rainbow-colored rock, which bestows wishes to the person holding it.

For young Toe Thompson (Jimmy Bennett) and other kids in his neighborhood, the rock conjures up everything from a castle with flying alligators to a “Big Bad Booger,” as the title of one segment delicately puts it.

Toe’s parents (Leslie Mann and Jon Cryer) are affected too, especially in a crazy party scene where they wish for “greater closeness.” (Close is one thing—the incredible two-headed transplant is quite another.)

They work for a greedy industrialist, Mr. Black (James Spader, acting up), who wants to take over the world with his all-purpose gizmo.

The grown-up parts of this movie have some of the satirical quickness of “Gremlins 2,” but Rodriguez is too busy dreaming up mischief for the kids to stick with it.

His villainess, Helvetica Black (Jolie Vanier), is such a terror she could easily spin off into her own film series.

The thing I enjoy about Rodriguez is the way he seems to open up his own child brain and allow his imagination to come cascading out. Take this however you want, but there’s no separation between this ostensibly grown-up filmmaker and the audience watching his movie.

For instance, the movie begins with a short sequence chronicling a staring contest between a brother and sister, which plays out hilariously for over 24 hours.

These two also pop up as a running gag during the rest of the movie.

It’s exactly the kind of thing an 11-year-old might film for his directorial debut … if that 11-year-old had Robert Rodriguez’s giddy talent.

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