Warner Bros. // 2009 // 89 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // November 24th, 2009
Not so tall tales from the director of Spy Kids.
Robert Rodriguez is a pretty talented filmmaker and given the right material, he's capable of making great movies. He was last seen alongside Quentin Tarantino directing the better half of the Grindhouse double bill and cementing his status as an ace purveyor of R-rated carnage. However Rodriguez also has a tendency to dabble in the realm of kiddie flicks, the results not quite as encouraging. Shorts is the latest Rodriguez flick for youngsters and it confirms that despite his terrific imagination, he's better at pumping shotguns and spilling guts.
Shorts takes place in the town of Black Falls, home of the latest must-have gizmo, The Black Box. Whilst the grownups of the little suburban society work endlessly for the Black corporation, the kids are left to their own devices, and one day little Toe Thompson (Jimmy Bennett, Orphan) comes across a wishing rock. The rock grants the bearer anything they want and through a series of mishaps the find works its way around the community, allowing the film to tell each respective story like a short film. Much like Pulp Fiction or something of that ilk, the various stories all link up eventually but for the majority of the running they're presented as mini adventures of their own.
Shorts is creative and certainly crazy enough, but it doesn't work as a feature film. The characters don't work due to bad performances, the story is flaccid and aimless, and to wrap things up the direction lacks purpose or any sense of control. Rodriguez is a pretty imaginative dude and his previous works have certainly had a generously energetic ridiculousness about them, but they also thrilled and boasted engaging and well-constructed screenplays. Shorts is just one big and over-indulgent mess, and to make matters worse it's not just the director whose talent is wasted. Leslie Mann (Funny People), James Spader (Stargate), and William. H. Macy (Psycho) are also squandered in this disastrously dull orgy of color and idiocy.
The story affords Rodriguez to throw all manner of bizarre imagery and silly characterization at the audience but virtually none of it sticks. The child performers are amateurish and ineffective and the story arcs are sickeningly familiar, somewhat rendering the movie's conception of bipedal crocodiles and telekinetic babies redundant. Rodriguez can cook up all the lunacy he wants but if he isn't going to bother doing the filmmaking basics well as a consequence (plot, characters, pacing?) then color me unimpressed. The adult stars aren't much better but then they also are working from limp writing and unconvincing dialogue, so perhaps the only true criticism that can be levelled at them is why they bothered to sign on.
The movie presents the audience with unconvincing villains and annoying heroes and pushes mostly predictable (albeit morally sound) messages. However just because it means well doesn't guarantee it'll operate as a worthwhile fantasy adventure, something Shorts certainly isn't. It lags and feels utterly predictable, and the stupidity of several of its protagonists is mystifying. Rodriguez, who also wrote the damned thing, should be fairly ashamed of himself, his picture lingers like a bad smell for the entirety of its running time. Visually the film is colourful and the cinematography is cheerful in its texture but the CGI is surprisingly weak. On several occasions the FX work in Shorts is simply unacceptable for a 2009 theatrical feature, especially during the unexciting and barely watchable finale.
The DVD looks modestly pleasing and comes with two special features aimed directly at children. The first features Rodriguez teaching children how to construct and spice up their own home movies and the second sees the sometimes brilliant director bake cookies with his kids. An adult viewer will garner absolutely no joy from these but for the brief 20 minute running youngsters should get a kick. However I'd rather watch a man cook confectionary with his spawn a thousand times over before I'd want to see Shorts again.
William. H. Macy gives it his best as always and Kat Dennings (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) looks hysterically bored (and pretty attractive) for the movie's duration. Aside from that and the inclusion of a Pterodactyl (aren't they cool?), I can see few other redeeming factors in Shorts.
I realise this has been an ironically short review, but in truth I've said everything I want to. The movie blows and Rodriguez needs to stop making children's films. Period.
Shorts is completely guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Daniel Kelly; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG