August 27, 2009

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Shorts (PG)
A neighborhood of kids learn the “be careful what you wish for” lesson the messy way in Shorts, a movie featuring an alligator army and a giant angry booger.

And frankly if that doesn’t have you and your elementary schooler strapped in the car and ready to go I don’t know how else to sell you on this, the latest film written and directed by Spy Kids’ Robert Rodriguez.

As the title suggests, Shorts is a collection of episodes featuring the kids and families of Black Falls, the company town that is the home to Mr. Black (James Spader), maker of the Black Box everything-in-one gadget and father to the horrible Cole Black (Devon Gearheart) and the ghastly Helvetica Black (Jolie Vanier), who is frequently accompanied by a demonic chorus operatically chanting her name. The braces-wearing Helvetica has decided for whatever reason to focus her rage on Toby “Toe” Thompson (Jimmy Bennett) — or maybe, as he suggests, she simply tortures him because she likes him (a suggestion that gets him dumped, once again, in the trash can). When he isn’t being dumped in a trash can, Toby is actually quite lonely in Black Falls, his one friend Nose Noseworthy (Jake Short) being shut up in his germ-free house with his germophobe dad, Dr. Noseworthy (William H. Macy). Therefore, when he finds a sparkling rainbow-colored rock, he wishes for friends and is instantly joined by a zooming swarm of toy-sized UFOs with Weeble-ish aliens inside. Of course, no wish is perfect and Toby soon gets in trouble when the aliens cause a ruckus at the school. And then he learns he’s not the only kid who’s had a little trouble with the rock and soon not only is he having wish-related problems but his parents (Jon Cryer, Leslie Mann) are as well.

A baby gets super-smarts, a boy wishes for a moat and an alligator army, another inadvertently causes a booger to come to life and go on the attack (as the dad explains: after all these years of eating your boogers, your booger wants to eat you). Shorts has a fun story-book quality to it, like one of those books where an element of magic adds color and plot to the annoyances and trials that kids recognize from their daily lives (dealing with bullies, making friends, having your homework eaten, braces). The kids are all competent-enough actors here not to fall back on the kind of sitcom mugging that can make movies like this horrible and the adults are smart enough to be goofy when needed and otherwise let the younger cast members shine. The movie doesn’t talk down to kids, nor does it talk over their head to get to adults — the jokes are goofy enough to be fun even if you really should be past the point where gross-out humor still works for you. (Though I don’t really know what that point might be and I’m pretty sure I’m never going to get to it.)

Though perhaps the live action isn’t right for the youngest viewers, Shorts seems like solid whole-family fare. While not the classic that Spy Kids is, Shorts has the right mix of story-telling and silliness to keep everyone happy. B

Rated PG for mild action and some rude humor. Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, Shorts is an hour and 29 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.