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by Peter Sobczynski

"Not-So-Glorious Bastards"
1 stars

Although best known for such excessively violent and luridly entertaining films as “Sin City,” “Planet Terror” and the “El Mariachi” trilogy, one-man-filmmaking-band Robert Rodriguez has chosen to carve out a second career for himself over the years as a producer of family fare, perhaps as a way of bonding with his own children by creating something that they could be allowed to see. It seemed like an utterly nutty and incongruous idea at first (although it bears reminding that such figures as Herschel Gordon Lewis and Sean Cunningham, the men behind such grisly fare as “Blood Feast” and “The Last House on the Left” also dabbled in kiddie fare as well) but when he emerged with his first stab at the children’s market, “Spy Kids,” the film surprisingly proved to be an enormously engaging work that showed just as much energy and inventiveness as his grown-up work. However, the two “Spy Kids” sequels, though not entirely without their individual charms, proved to be less interesting as Rodriguez seemed to be more interested in proving his theories regarding the future of digital filmmaking than in telling a decent story and “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl” was such a cruddy rip-off that the fact that he shot it in an incredibly ugly and largely failed anaglyph 3-D process (the same one that caused headaches across the country when he deployed it on “Spy Kids 3-D”) that made the entire thing literally unwatchable was only the least of its cinematic sins. Now he has returned to the family fold with “Shorts” and if my theory that he does these films to bond with his own kids holds any water, it is time to put down the camera and pick up a ball and glove for an extended game of catch instead and save everyone, including audiences, from wasting time and money on a sloppy and stupid mess whose only virtues, as far as I can tell, are that it isn’t in 3-D and that it is slightly better than “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl.”

Actually, to call “Shorts” a film is stretching the truth quite a bit. In fact, it is, as the title suggests, a collection of loosely connected short films that are set within the confines of the planned community of Black Falls, a suburb owned and operated by the fearsome Black Box Unlimited Worldwide Industries, creators of the Black Box (a multi-faceted gadget/communication device that can apparently do anything except run for more than a few minutes before the battery goes kaput), and which focus on the misadventures of several of its denizens when they come into contact with a mysterious rainbow-colored stone that drops from the skies and has the power to grant wishes to anyone who possesses it. The rock is first discovered by a kid named Loogie (Trevor Gagnon), an excitable boy with an unfortunate tendency to make wishes without thinking them through--his desires for a fortress surrounded by an army of crocodiles and the power of “telephonesis” wind up backfiring badly for him and his wish for someone in his family to become the smartest person in the world goes equally wrong when it is bestowed upon his infant sister. The rock then winds up in the hands of Toe Thompson (Jimmy Bennett), a weird little kid who finds himself the target (and secret crush object) of class bully Helvetica Black (Jolie Vanier), who uses it to wish for friends as odd as himself and gets them in the form of tiny aliens who seem to have come from the road company of “batteries not included.” Next up are Toe’s workaholic parents (Leslie Mann and Jon Cryer), who devote so much time to working for Black Box Inc. that they are reduced to texting each other while in the same room--after picking up the rock and idly wishing that they could be closer, they wind up being conjoined. From there, the rock turns up at the house of gramophone scientist Dr. Noseworthy (William H. Macy) and his son, Nose (Jake Short), whose nose-picking habit leads to a battle with, you guessed it, an enormous booger monster. Finally, the rock winds up in the hands of Mr. Black (James Spader), Helvetica’s father and the head of Black Box, and he predictably tries to use it to become the most powerful thing in the world and it is up to all the kids to stop him before he destroys everything.

The idea behind “Shorts” sounds appealing enough and, having once sat in a hotel room with Rodriguez as he was trying to sell me on the wonders of all-digital filmmaking, I can imagine him pitching it with enough enthusiasm to convince producers to cough up the money to put it together. However, the execution of the material is beyond abysmal. First, the stories are all pretty much the same thing--someone makes a wish, it doesn’t turn out quite the way it was planned and everyone learns a valuable life lesson--and watching them unfold one after the other is somewhat like watching a week’s worth of an exceptionally crappy syndicated kid’s TV show from the Seventies where incoherent adventures were always concluded with reminders to avoid hiding inside of abandoned refrigerators. (The only difference is that in this particular case, most viewers will find themselves praying for commercials to arrive and break up the monotony. ) Then there is Rodriguez’s bizarre decision to put the shorts together in a non-linear manner that is constantly jumping back and forth in time--little kids are most likely going to wind up confused by this approach while older viewers will just find themselves annoyed. The biggest blunder by far, however, is Rodriguez’s complete disconnect from the material--while you could still feel a human touch at work in the original “Spy Kids,” this film feels like it was made in a lab in dire need of an inspection and shutdown. He is so wholly devoted to filling the screen with bits of CGI whimsy (none of which is especially whimsical) that he lets any potential human element fall by the wayside--a decision that is especially ironic when you consider that one of the main themes of the story deals with the dangers of being so wrapped up in technology theoretically designed to bring people together that it winds up driving them apart instead. I suppose that Rodriguez could claim that he never read the screenplay before signing on--the only possible explanation for the presence of such wasted talents as Spader and Macy--but since Rodriguez actually wrote the script, that argument might not hold up for very long.

Besides my assertion that it is slightly better than that Sharkboy silliness (which says more about the incredible awfulness of that film than anything else), there are a couple of tolerable things about “Shorts.” Kat Dennings (whom you will recall from such films as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist”) turns up briefly as Toe’s sister and, besides being a real looker, demonstrates such an obvious disdain for the material that her appearances provide an amusing counter-commentary towards the entire project. Newcomer Jolie Vanier generates a few honest laughs as the monstrous Helvetica while conclusively proving that the plans to clone Christina Ricci have actually borne fruit. Most importantly, attending the film allowed me to see the new trailer for Spike Jonze’s take on the children’s classic “Where the Wild Things Are,” a compilation that packs more laughs, tenderness and visual splendor in two minutes than “Shorts” does in eighty-nine. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even fully enjoy those moments because of my growing suspicion that, based on the size of the crowd at the matinee that I attended, that this infantile piece of junk would likely make more money in its opening weekend than the glorious “Ponyo” would in its entire American run. That, by the way, is a film that will hold audiences of all ages spellbound with its combination of a gripping story and gorgeous visuals. “Shorts,” on the other hand, will only have parents and any child with a modicum of wit and intelligence fervently wishing themselves into a different theater.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18137&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/21/09 23:49:21
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User Comments

3/22/15 Jerry Spray Um, what was the story? The scenes were all out of order? :-( 1 stars
4/05/12 SEAN DUTRA tolerable but bad 2 stars
11/19/09 DK Creative sure.....but so are the works of L.Ron Hubbard. A weak effort 1 stars
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  21-Aug-2009 (PG)
  DVD: 24-Nov-2009


  DVD: 24-Nov-2009

Directed by
  Robert Rodriguez

Written by
  Robert Rodriguez

  Jon Cryer
  William H. Macy
  Leslie Mann
  James Spader

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