Review: Shorts

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I had the opportunity to attend the Shorts premiere here in Austin last Sunday, with writer/director Robert Rodriguez and the young cast in attendance. The film is about a group of kids who find a magical rock that like the morbid "Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs that does more damage than good.

Shorts: The Adventures of the Wishing Rock takes place in the fictional surburbia of the Black Falls, where most residents work for Black Box Unlimited Worldwide Industries Incorporated. Mr. Black (James Spader) has created the Black Box do-it-all gadget that is found in everyone's household. The Wishing Rock can do even more, and everyone including the megalomaniacal Mr. Black wants to get their hands on the rock. Wishes wind up with unexpected results, leaving the residents of Black Falls dealing with walking crocodiles, tiny spaceships and a monster from a most disturbing origin. The kids must band together to save the day.

Just as Racer Rodriguez had inspired his dad to create The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl, older brother Rebel came up with the basic concept of Shorts -- it's a series of shorts, the kids are short, and they wear shorts -- after watching the classic kids' gang comedy series The Little Rascals.

However, this film is still a product of Robert Rodriguez's imagination, told in a non-linear narrative that might be difficult for most kids and even adults to follow. Scenes between rivals Toe Thompson (Jimmy Bennett) and Helvetica Black (Jolie Vanier) are reminiscent of Rodriguez's segment "The Misbehavers" in Four Rooms, which also featured interlocking tales. The premise of a wishing rock came from Robert's own childhood fantasies, of a magical watch that could do anything. I can relate -- I've always wanted a magic box that would recover lost items.

Where Shark Boy & Lava Girl was criticized for having too many special effects, the Shorts CGI effects add to the entertainment value for kids. William H. Macy stands out as Mr. Noseworthy, a character that closely resembles Wayne Szalinski of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Unfortunately, it's not enough to make up for a disjointed story that's lacking in originality and substance.

Shorts falls short of the bar Rodriguez set for himself with Spy Kids. Young kids will enjoy Shorts, but the unevenness of the stories and finale will likely leave many adults wishing for the end credits.

Austin Connections: Filmed at Troublemaker Studios in East Austin with a primarily local crew, including of course writer/director Robert Rodriguez, producer Elizabeth Avellan and their kids Rebel, Racer and Rocket Rodriguez, who acted in the film.

Notable Austin Locations: Austin subdivisions of Lantana, Rough Hollow and Waterfront represent surburbs of Black Falls.