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SHORTS (director/writer: Robert Rodriguez; cinematographer: Robert Rodriguez; editors: Robert Rodriguez/Ethan Maniquis; music: Robert Rodriguez/Carl Thiel/George Oldziey; cast: Jon Cryer (Dad Thompson), William H. Macy (Dr. Noseworthy), Leslie Mann (Mom Thompson), James Spader (Mr. Black), Jimmy Bennett (Toe Thompson), Kat Dennings (Stacey Thompson), Jake Short (Nose Noseworthy), Devon Gearhart (Cole Black), Leo Howard (Laser), Trevor Gagnon (Loogie), Rebel Rodriguez (Lug), Jolie Vanier (Helvetica Black), Angela Lanza (Teacher), Bianca Rodriguez (baby); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Elizabeth Avellán/Robert Rodriguez; Warner Brothers Pictures; 2009)
“This loud and energetic work won’t add much value to family frolic films and messages that warn one to be careful what you wish for.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“Shorts” is a lame cartoonish children’s film (for those 12 and under) that delivers a tiresome moral lesson: that one should wish for things that are important and not superficial, or else one will waste their wishes and not help the world evolve. Robert Rodriguez (“Spy Kids”/”Sin City”/”From Dusk Till Dawn”) is writer, director, co-editor, co-producer, co-photographer, co-musical composer and supervisor of the visual effects). Nevertheless, even though he comes up with yet another personal film, it still is another bummer.

The film is built around five cheeky short episodes, taken out of order, that prove Westerners are craving for more technology without realizing it’s working to stifle human communication. The action takes place in the fictitious suburban community of Black Falls, where most of the inhabitants work for the power-hungry Mr. Black (James Spader), CEO of the huge corporation that bears his name for the company town. His product is the Black Box, which is an all-purpose communication device.

The focal point of the story are the Thompson family. Mom and dad (Leslie Mann & Jon Cryer) are workaholics, assigned by Mr. Black as team leaders, on opposite sides, to upgrade the Black Box or get fired and kicked out of their company house. Their 11-year-old braces-wearing son Toe (Jimmy Bennett) is neglected by them and has no friends, is picked on in school by bullies (led by Mr. Black’s terrorizing pint-sized daughter Helvetica (Jolie Vanier) and his older athletic son Cole (Devon Gearhart), who loves dropping Toe into the trash can as his morning ritual) and even Toe’s 19-year-sister (Kat Dennings) disdainfully calls him a freak because the lonely kid speaks to himself.

About an hour into the film Toe comes into possession of a rainbow-colored rock that has the power to grant his every wish or the wish of anyone who possesses the rock. But the undeveloped Toe misuses the rock and seems to be causing more problems than before he had such power. At this point Dr. Noseworthy (William H. Macy), germ-phobic head scientist for Mr. Black, comes into the pic and even this superb character actor can’t get a proper handle on how to draw comedy out of this silly sterile film, as he’s reduced to battling with a giant booger monster to try and get his quota of laughs.

The slight underwritten five tales shoot for broad slapstick, some nasty verbal lashings and toilet humor, as it goes about its business of spoofing the American family for its careerist attitudes, its materialism, its cravings for high-tech and inability to tune into its children. Its all been done before, as this loud and energetic work won’t add much value to family frolic films and messages that warn one to be careful what you wish for.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”