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Shorts (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

SHORTS (2009)

Starring Jimmy Bennett, Jolie Vanier, Kat Dennings, Jon Cryer, Leslie Mann, Jake Short, Trevor Gagnon, Devon Gearhart, William H. Macy, James Spader, Rebel Rodriguez, Leo Howard, Cambell Westmoreland, Zoe Webb and Angela Lanza.

Written by Robert Rodriguez.

Directed by Robert Rodriguez.

Distributed by Warner Bros. 89 minutes. Rated PG.

It is possible for children’s films to live up to a child’s imagination – and it’s also just as possible for them to live down to it.

Shorts absolutely lives down.

Down to the lowest and coarsest of children’s obsessions – boogers, butts, barf, roaches, bullies, staring nonstop, giant robots – Shorts is a compendium of things that make a parent groan.

Why challenge little boys and girls with imaginative flights of fancy when you can create a giant booger monster, instead?

Besides, there are completely gratuitous lessons about the evils of nose-picking and the importance of oral hygiene – both important lessons, I suppose, and yet completely shoehorned into the plot.

Robert Rodriguez – the visionary behind Desperado, Planet Terror and From Dusk ‘Til Dawn – is doing his part to educate the leaders of our future.

I worry for the human race.

What Shorts loses in imagination it tries to make up in a jumpy, hyperactive ADD pace. The storyline bounces back and forth in time – made up of six “short films,” essentially interlocking chapters of the movie as a whole – the only rhyme or reason to the timeline is that the stories are supposedly told by the narrator as he recalls them.

That narrator is Toe Thompson (just one of many dumb names in the movie, which also has kids named stuff like Nose, Loogie, Lug, Laser and Helvetica) a young boy who lives in a prefab suburb which is home of a multi-national corporation which has created “The Black Box” – sort of like a super blackberry which can do just about everything.

Toe stumbles upon a rainbow-colored “wishing rock” (it’s way too complicated to get into how he got it) which will grant any wish that anyone makes – however, not usually in the way that they would expect.

This leads to a series of episodes of kids and adults trying to get the wishing stone and then wreaking havoc with it when they do – creating amongst other things miniature flying saucers, a group of ravenous crocodiles which walk on two feet, a giant wasp, 50-foot-tall robot and a booger monster.

It’s no big surprise that the kid (over)actors have a tendency for broadly overselling everything – though, in fairness, young Jolie Vanier is actually quite good as the spoiled princess emo bully who is alternately the villain of the plot and the potential love interest. However, the rest of the kids’ acting is severely suspect for anything beyond a totally superficial level.

Worse, there are some very capable professional actors playing adults here – James Spader, William H. Macy, Jon Cryer, Leslie Mann, Kat Jennings – and they are chewing scenery every bit as shamelessly as the children. Worse, actually, as the children at least have the excuse of not knowing any better.

Of course, that all falls on the director. Rodriguez may have taken a bit too much on his plate – this jack of all trades filmed the movie at his home studio, he worked as cinematographer, editor, composer, producer, screenwriter and director. It’s an amazing, Herculean feat – however one gets the impression that many of these jobs may have been done better had he trusted professionals to do the work.

Then, maybe, he could have spent more time working on his script and direction – both of which are slapdash to say the least.

Shorts is the fifth time in which Robert Rodriguez took inspiration for a film from his little children’s imaginings – following the three Spy Kids films and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl.

Perhaps the Rodriguez brood all needs a little less sugar in their diets.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: November 25, 2009.


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