‘Shorts’ should absorb young viewers | VailDaily.com

‘Shorts’ should absorb young viewers

Ann Hornaday
The Washington Post

Connoisseurs of Robert Rodriguez’s wonderful “Spy Kids” movies will recognize a few of the filmmaker’s cardinal characters and themes throughout “Shorts.”

This family comedy, full of gadgets, gizmos and goo, features an alienated family, an evil corporate empire and a particularly noxious brother-sister team of pint-size villains. The hero, an awkward middle-schooler named Toby “Toe” Thompson (Jimmy Bennett) survives crocodile bile, pterodactyl poop and sundry other things that go splurt. After a series of hair-raising and quite possibly world-ending battles, order is restored in the form of a once strained family coming back together in love and mutual respect.

The gimmick here is that, instead of telling the story in a linear fashion, Rodriguez delivers it by way of a series of short films in mixed-up order. A big, grown-up kid who happens to have major-cool special effects and a few million bucks at his disposal, Rodriguez remains in perfect sync with viewers who, when presented with a giant, goopy piece of nasal effluvia, don’t think, “Gross.” They think, “Now THAT’S entertainment!”

Toe lives in the company town of Black Falls, where both his parents (Leslie Mann and Jon Cryer) work for Black Box Industries, which makes a device that can do everything from placing a phone call to brushing your teeth. While Mom and Dad Thompson desperately try to find a way to improve the Black Box lest they be fired, Toe finds a rainbow-colored “wishing rock” that will grant his every stated desire.

The poor kid’s first request is for friends: The rock provides him with a flotilla of little E.T.s that promptly whip up a gourmet meal while Toe’s parents obliviously dine on ramen noodles and type away at their PDAs.

Rodriguez offers a stern message against technological addiction, especially when it comes to plugged-in, tuned-out parents.

Poor Toe is routinely razzed by his sulky older sister (played by an underused Kat Dennings) and dumped into trash cans by the double-teaming siblings Cole and Helvetica Black (Devon Gearheart and Jolie Vanier).

If parents feel like they’ve seen much of “Shorts” before, its celebration of mayhem and restless, thrill-seeking vibe will absorb young viewers, especially as the boredom of late summer begins to set in.

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