You might say that writer-producer-director-cinematographer-co-editor-composer-visual-effects-supervisor-re-recording-mixer Robert Rodriguez has a lot of energy when it comes to making movies. You might use words other than “restrained” to describe him. And if you already figured there’s a special place in the Spy Kids superintendent’s heart for tales of children who find themselves unbuckled from reality and tossed around on special-effects-intensive thrill rides, well, the new Rodriguez film, Shorts, isn’t about to tell you you’re wrong.
Starring Jon Cryer, Kat Dennings, William H. Macy, Leslie Mann and James Spader, along with several thrill-seeking kids, Shorts is a zippy, slapsticky comedy about a suburban company town going bonkers when a wish-granting, rainbow-colored rock falls out of the sky. Importantly, it’s a town of technology-dependent dullards who aren’t exactly the best parents ever, and a company presided over by a ruthless techo-gadget tycoon. There is the sense that mayhem was just waiting to ensue.
One of the kids, played by Jimmy Bennett, is the movie’s narrator, whose enthusiasm for getting the story out sometimes gets in the way of getting it straight. Undaunted, he’ll just pause, rewind and fast-forward around to ferret out the best bits. That spastic nonlinearity has its charms, as do the bits themselves. A wife and husband become conjoined. Crocodiles walk upright and sail through the air. A huge, kid-eating booger attacks a small, booger-eating kid. An absentee boyfriend is forced to grow up, but not in a good way. Germs spread. Someone turns into a dung beetle. An infant becomes omniscient. Buildings get smashed. Power corrupts.
And all of this goes unnoticed by a brother and sister who’ve locked each other into a staring contest lasting several days.
Shorts updates the antics of the Little Rascals, with more volume, color, awkward acting, nudging music, improbabilities of character motivation, tedium, a girl (Jolie Vanier) who inevitably will be called “the next Christina Ricci,” some delightful hints of the giddy grotesquery Rodriguez brought to Planet Terror, and the most gratuitous candy-company product placement since E.T. (not surprisingly, it’s from the same company). So you can see how such an outing would require an indefatigable filmmaker. And perhaps an indefatigable audience.
Sometimes, when critics see movies in advance, we’re approached afterwards by publicity folks wanting to know what we’ve thought. After seeing Shorts, I wasn’t asked what I thought, but I was handed a small plastic sleeve containing three vividly colored DenTek Fun Flossers. “Healthy Habits Start Early,” the front of the package explained. On the back there were instructions for use, and a mild warning about bleeding gums. I’m not sure how to take that.
Shorts does stress the importance of good oral hygiene. But it has other messages to impart as well. For example: Once in a while, put away your mobile communication device and kiss your husband or wife. In fact, good oral hygiene will come in handy for that. But don’t worry so much about germs that you let life pass you by. Oh, and for the love of rainbow-colored rocks from space, be careful what you wish for.