by M. Faust
Like Pulp Fiction for kids, Shorts divides a fantasy story about a rock that can grant wishes into five components presented out of chronological sequence. It’s probably not an accidental resemblance, given that Shorts was made by Robert Rodriguez, who has collaborated with Quentin Tarantino on many projects (though Rodriguez hit the scene first, with his microbudget 1991 film El Mariachi). The two share an affection for the extremes of genre entertainment—Rodriguez contributed the first (and better) half of the Grindhouse double bill, as well as Sin City. But Rodriguez also likes to make kid’s movies: An early adopter of digital effects, he’s a one man studio who gets his entire family in on the game. At best, this has resulted in the Spy Kids series, two-thirds of which was terrific fun; it also gave us the lackluster Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl.
Shorts falls somewhere in between. Set in a planned community built around the headquarters of a Bill Gates-ish tycoon (played with bland menace by James Spader), the story centers on different kids and their experiences with the rainbow-colored rock. The kids are more white bread than the charismatic Latino tykes from Spy Kids (even though several of them are their director’s sons). But their antics bear a reasonable resemblance to what real kids might do with such a device, coupled with Rodriguez’s imaginative use of special effects. (Warning: this does lead to a sequence entitled “Big Bad Booger.”)
I was delighted by the first half, in which the Pulp Fiction jumping is presented as a story being told by an unfocused kid in charge of the DVD player’s remote control. But it doesn’t sustain itself, and as more adults enter the story (in the familiar forms of Jon Cryer, Leslie Mann, and William H. Macy) the movie sags, culminating in a frenetic finale. Still, you have to appreciate a filmmaker who knows that, if you’re going to keep using the phrase “I wish,” at some point you will have to pay homage to Mr. Oscar Mayer.
Watch the trailer for Shorts
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