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Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D, The

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/10/05 18:08:27

"Wildly inventive, yet painfully useless."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Robert Rodriguez may be the most visually inventive moviemaker working today. His work in digital filmmaking has created some dazzling treats in the past few years, including the wicked cool of “Once Upon a Time In Mexico,” the slick comic-come-to-life of “Sin City,” and the vibrant imagination explosion of “Spy Kids.” Going into a Rodriguez film, you always know you’ll find plenty of eye candy.

Yet while the digital domain may have helped Rodriguez make his movies quicker and cheaper, they don’t always turn out better. His two “Spy Kids” sequels were fumbled rush jobs, with “Spy Kids 3-D” an especially large embarrassment. But Rodriguez did not learn from his mistakes (the two biggies: that anaglyph 3-D - the kind with the red/blue glasses - works only in ruining the visuals, and that kid movies need more than fancy visual effects in order to succeed), and so we now get “The Adventures of Lava Boy and Shark Girl In 3-D.”

“Shark Boy and Lava Girl” began, the film’s many publicity outlets have informed us, with the stories of Rodriguez’ son, Racer. These stories have been adapted into a script (father and son share writing credit) in which fourth-grader Max (Cayden Boyd) dreams up the wild title characters, a boy raised by sharks (Taylor Lautner) and a girl made of lava (Taylor Dooley), hence their names. Just before the end of summer vacation, Shark Boy and Lava Girl left Max behind on Earth as they zoomed back to their home, Planet Drool. Naturally, everybody thinks these are all just Max’s wild stories.

Which they are. It seems Max has the power to make his dreams come to life, so when his classmates doubt his tales of adventure, Shark Boy and Lava Girl return, right in front of everybody. The trio blast off to Drool, where the villainous Mr. Electric (George Lopez, in one of his many roles here) is working to kill off all the dreams of this imagination-powered planet.

There’s a “Neverending Story” vibe here, what with the power-of-dreams theme and all. But that film has in spades what “Shark Boy and Lava Girl” is sorely missing: magic. There’s never any real sense of wonder here, no jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring moments that take our breath away. Nothing ever hooks us. Not once will anyone look at the screen and say “wow.” Which is a shame, because a planet built on pure childhood fantasy is ripe with potential.

All we get instead are a series of uninspired action sequences (they feel like leftovers from the “Spy Kids” franchise), a script that has no clue what to do with itself (that it was created by a child is one thing; that the elder Rodriguez, with his years of storytelling experience, failed to turn these ideas into a workable story is another), a cast whose weaknesses only hurt the film further (when George Lopez is the strongest member in your cast, you know you’ve got problems), and, above all else, a 3-D format that does everything it can to ruin the picture.

Now, I love 3-D. When done right, it can be a terrific thrill and a beautiful movie going experience. When done wrong, however, it can be anything from a lame distraction to an all-around miserable waste of time. In “Shark Boy and Lava Girl,” the 3-D is done wrong. So very, very wrong.

You see, there are two main methods of 3-D presentation, not counting the new, more hi-tech version employed for IMAX theaters. The more effective kind is the Polaroid method, which utilizes two projectors hooked up to run in perfect unison; the two images are projected on the screen, then get “descrambled” by filtering glasses (the clear lenses are like mildly dark sunglasses), producing a nice, believable 3-D effect.

But this method is expensive and restrictive; not too many theaters around the country can be bothered these days to hook up two special projectors to one screen, especially not the generic multiplexes where “Shark Boy and Lava Girl” will make its most money. And so we get the second, less desirable method, the anaglyph. The red-and-blue glasses are pop culture legend, but they’re actually the worst way imaginable in which to watch a film - the colored lenses may descramble the image on screen, but in doing so, they dilute any colors the movie has to offer. Everything winds up looking muddy, drab, ugly.

And that’s exactly what this film does not need. Out of curiosity, I occasionally slipped off the glasses and was amazed at how vibrant things were in Max’s dream world. Putting the glasses back on, these bright, lively colors disappear into a gloomy visual mess. (Lava Girl’s outfit goes from an electric pink with glasses off to a putrid brown with glasses on.) It’s like going to the symphony with two pairs of earmuffs on; you still get the general idea, but the beauty of it is diluted to unacceptable extremes.

Which is not to say that “Shark Boy and Lava Girl” is like a symphony. It’s more like one of those CDs of obnoxious kiddie songs my daughter sometimes plays. Empty, uninspired quickie entertainment aimed at an audience not old enough to know when it’s just no good. This film simply doesn’t even work in two dimensions. The action is tired. The plotline is sloppy and way underdeveloped. The characters range from shallow to unlikable. The 3-D gimmickry of throwing things at the screen becomes overly tiresome all too quickly. The promise of the film’s central idea is left painfully unfulfilled.

This is a shame, plain and simple. With “Spy Kids,” Rodriguez proved that he had the imagination and the skills to pull off a thrilling dream ride (“Sin City” then did the same for grown-ups). But in “Shark Boy and Lava Girl,” as with his “Spy Kids” sequels, it’s an imagination gone to waste. Rodriguez is an expert at creating dazzling new worlds and remarkable inventions. Considering how quickly he churns out these low budget kid flicks, what he seems to lack is the patience it takes to nurture a story and make sure it’s ready before chucking it out onto movie screens.

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