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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Robert Rodriguez has, throughout his career, alternated between making cutting-edge action films for adults (Sin City, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, the Planet Terror portion of Grindhouse) and making goofy childrens' movies (Spy Kids, The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl). While those genres may seem a bit at odds, it really comes as no surprise; Rodriguez is nothing if not a big kid playing in a moviemaking playground. Unfortunately, the idea of making movies for children sometimes brings out his least disciplined tendencies. His most recent effort, Shorts, comes to DVD on November 24. While it has the boundless imagination that marks all the director's work, the film is also a bit attention deficit.

The movie tells a complete story, but does so via a series of separate vignettes, presented (for some unknown reason) out of order. A young boy named "Toe" Thompson (Jimmy Bennett) finds a "wishing rock" that has fallen from the sky. Whoever holds it has the power to make their wishes come true. Naturally, a lot of people want the rock when they find out about it, including local business tycoon Mr. Black (James Spader), who has become rich selling a multi-purpose device called the Black Box. He also has a daughter named Helvetica, who frequently torments Toe and also wants the rock for herself. Jon Cryer and Leslie Mann co-star as Toe's parents, and William H. Macy is Dr. Noseworthy, the father of Toe's friend, Nose Noseworthy. He's a world-class germophobe who ends up doing battle with a Booger Monster when the nose-picking Nose wrecks one of his experiments. That's right - this movie has a Booger Monster.

Shorts also has a kid who grows a telephone through his head, a scene where two adults have their bodies fused together, an army of crocodiles, a telepathic baby, and little tiny UFOs that do Toe's bidding. There's certainly enough here to ignite the imagination of kids, and I think they will adore the film. Adults may find the whole thing a little scattershot. Most of the attempts at humor are delivered with a heavy touch (Rodriguez stopped short of inserting rim shots, but other weird sounds effects are common), and a lot of it revolves around all the usual bodily fluids. Telling the story out of sequence was a bad idea because it robs the film of any kind of momentum that made Spy Kids such a treat. Shorts is constantly pinballing back and forth, from one thing to the next, in such a hyperactive fashion that one wishes it would just slow down a bit.

Still, I admit that some of the special effects are pretty funny and the performances are generally pretty good (especially the hilarious one from James Spader). Rodriguez also creates some moments of genuine cleverness. One of the more inventive bits is the conception of that Black Box, which can morph into anything from a cell phone to a "personal cooling device." The movie's satire of our culture's obsession with handheld devices really hits a bullseye.

Shorts is a film that I would have loved at age ten; audiences of that age range will no doubt be all into it, so in that sense it's worth having on your radar if you're a parent. As for whether you're going to watch it…well, it's a painless experience, albeit one that has diminishing returns the older you are.

( 1/2 out of four)

DVD Features:

Shorts hits DVD on November 24 from Warner Home Video. The movie is presented in your choice of fullscreen or widescreen formats. A digital copy is included on the disc.

There are two bonus features, both of which are delightful. "Ten Minute Cooking School" finds Robert Rodriguez and his daughter showing us how to make "chocolate chip volcano cookies." The recipe looks simple and delicious, but the real fun is watching the big-time movie director just being a doting dad to his little girl.

Even better is "Ten Minute Film School" in which Rodriguez offers young viewers some insight into how movies are made. For instance, he demonstrates the power of sound effects by showing some home movies he made with his children. In one, his young son tries to finish assembling a stretch of track before a toy train hits it and derails. Rodriguez added realistic locomotive noises to heighten the suspense and turn the footage into something humorous. I wish there had been a "Ten Minute Film School" when I was a kid, tinkering around with my dad's old 8-millimeter camera. This bonus feature is a neat learning tool for kids who may be interested in peeking behind the moviemaking curtain.

Shorts is rated PG for some mild action and crude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.

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