(2009) ** Pg
89 min. Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution. Director: Robert Rodriguez. Cast: Jimmy Bennett, Kat Dennings, Devon Gearhart, Rebel Rodriguez, Leo Howard.

/content/films/3539/1.jpgIt’d be easy to mistake the new kids movie Shorts for an adaptation of a certain brand of joyously pandering kid-lit that wallows in the silly and scatological. Actually, Shorts comes from an original script by Austin-based director Robert Rodriguez, the man who brought your children the Spy Kids trilogy and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D.

Rodriguez has five children, at least three of whom appear in Shorts, and ostensibly the movie reflects a kid’s sensibility. Like Spy Kids, Shorts is imaginative wish fulfillment, with lots of cool gadgets, head trauma and pratfalls, and booger jokes. It’s not every movie, you understand, that includes award-winning actor William H. Macy expounding, “Boogers are like fecal material.” The gimmick of Shorts is a pun: not only is the movie for the short-pants set, but it’s constructed of six short films, the episodes shuffled to be training-wheels Tarantino.

In the corporatized town of Black Falls, everyone works for Black Box Unlimited Worldwide Industries, Incorporated, under the watchful glare of CEO Carbon Black (James Spader). Eleven-year-old eccentric Toe Thompson (Jimmy Bennett, Star Trek’s boy Kirk) languishes at Black Falls Company School, where he’s bullied by Mr. Black’s spawn: Cole Black (Devon Gearhart) and Helvetica Black (Jolie Vanier), the leader of the pack. Everything changes when Toe happens upon a rainbow-colored “wishing rock.” Break out the theremin: Toe wishes for friends interesting enough to match him, and he winds up with tiny aliens (in tiny flying saucers) who obligingly cook gourmet meals and clean his room.

Naturally, the wishing rock changes hands with troublesome regularity, conjuring up alligators, a pterodactyl, a mucus monster, and (product placement alert…) an unlimited supply of brand-name candy bars, among other inconveniences. The spelled-out lesson: “Be sure you are wishing for something worth wishing for.” Parents, too, are meant to learn from the negative example of Toe’s folks (Leslie Mann and Jon Cryer), whose texting disconnects them from family (in a bit of poetic justice, they wind up literally joined at the hip).

Shorts is just creative enough to keep kids glazed over with nominal interest, but it won’t challenge them much, and the critique of handheld devices seems misplaced coming from a filmmaker so infatuated with video-game-styled visuals. Parents can amuse themselves by pondering Rodriguez’s filmmaking cred: he continues to be a jack of all trades (director of photography, co-writer of the musical score, visual effects supervisor, re-recording mixer…), and he gets by with a little help from cool friends like makeup whizzes Greg Nicotero & Howard Berger.

Basically, Rodriguez’s latest is like the ‘90s TV series Eerie, Indiana remade for “shorts” attention spans, with dynamic editing and loud special effects, and though it threatens to take off in the humor department, it never quite does.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Doilby Digital 5.1

Street date: 11/24/2009

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Shorts leaps onto Blu-ray with a spiffy transfer and a handful of fun bonus features. The hi-def transfer accurately represents the film's surreal theatrical appearance, with its unnatural contrast and oddball effects; detail is strong, and no digital artifacts are on hand. A lively Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround mix completes the effect, with nice immersion and plenty of peppy music and action.

Blu-exclusive "The Magic of Shorts" (9:19, HD) gathers director Robert Rodriguez, Trevor Gagnon, on-set visual effects supervisor/CG supervisor Jabbar Raisani, Leslie Mann, Jon Cryer, Jimmy Bennett, Booger Monster creator Chris Olivia, Jake Short, William H. Macy, Leo Howard, and Rebel Rodriguez to explain how certain sequences were conceived and achieved.

Blu-exclusive "Shorts: Show and Tell" (5:20, HD) provides the kid's eye view from Devon Gearhart, Short, Howard, Jolie Vanier, Bennett, Gagnon, stunt girl Tabitha Brown, Cambell Westmoreland, Zoe Webb, Rebel Rodriguez and big kid Robert Rodriguez.

In "Ten-Minute Cooking School: Chocolate Chip Volcano Cookies" (9:58, HD) wee Rhiannon Rodriguez helps her dad whip up some confections.

Rodriguez's customary bonus feature has a home-movie spin in "Ten-Minute Film School: Short Shorts" (8:50, HD), which includes some original raw test footage shot at home with the kids.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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