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Robert Rodriguez is an interesting director. He refuses to hold back when crafting a film for adults, as seen with his terrifically gory Grindhouse feature, Planet Terror and George Clooney classic, From Dusk Till Dawn. But he also seems to have a childlike side to him with movies like The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl and the Spy Kids trilogy under his belt. Regrettably, I haven't seen the latter films. His latest kid-centric flick, Shorts, is my first foray into his silly side and though it doesn't have me itching to see the others, it was a decent diversion while it lasted.

The story in Shorts centers around a group of people living in the technologically advanced town of Black Falls, the hometown of Black Box Inc., a company that designs and develops a tool with literally thousands of uses: you name it, the Black Box can do it. One day, a group of boys finds a rainbow colored rock capable of granting the holder any wish one can think up, but they wind up losing it, only for it to turn up in the possession of Toe Thompson (Jimmy Bennett). Eventually, the head of Black Box Inc., Mr. Black (James Spader), learns of the rock's powers and attempts to attain it however he can.

As Toe explains at the beginning of the flick, so much has happened since the discovery of the rock that it has become difficult to remember what events came first, saying, "I'm going to have to tell the story completely out of order, in a series of shorts." (Cue the opening title.) From this point on, the movie chronicles five different episodes in non-sequential order, all related around the magical rock and all somehow interconnected.

Shorts starts out on a high note, enjoyably over the top not in an an eye rolling Disney Channel kind of way, but in a knowing, self-deprecating kind of way where the film makes fun of itself more than anything else. I particularly loved the creativity on display in these early portions of the film showing how imaginative these kids were, making certain situations seem much worse than they really were, including one excellent scene where a simple throw of a rock caused a resounding explosion, as if grenades were falling all around the boys. It was wonderful.

But then it quickly deteriorates into immature scatological jokes and slapstick humor clearly aimed at children and loses the adults in the process. What had the makings of a good family film suddenly began to unexpectedly decline in quality. A couple of examples stand out when detailing how it made this abrupt turn. At one point in the movie, a character named Loogie is spit up (like a loogie! Get it?!) by a crocodile and then immediately pooped on by a bird. Another character named Nose picks a booger (out of his nose! Get it?!) and flicks it on a table, where it transforms into a booger monster. It wasn't funny or interesting, though I suspect the 12 and under crowd will rollick in its absurdity and puerile humor.

It became all too apparent that Shorts decided to take the low road and go for the gag effect in order to make children scream in happiness and disgust. After the booger monster starts to attack the children, Nose picks another booger and threatens to eat it, claiming it as a friend of the monster. Here, the camera kindly zooms in on it so we can see the oozing grossness up close. Wonderful.

Still, I did enjoy the relative ingenuity of the early beginnings. I loved how quick, seemingly throwaway lines were later brought up again, putting some context to them, like early in the movie when Loogie says that a crocodile ate his homework, prompting everybody in class to laugh at him. Later in the movie, we see these past events and watch him dive headfirst into the stomach of one of the beasts, wrangle his way out and pull his homework out of his pocket in its destroyed state, confirming his bizarre statement. The writing wasn't anything particularly astonishing, but it was nice to see some thought put into it nonetheless.

There is a clever recurring joke in Shorts that remains funny throughout (though it does teeter on the line of overkill) showing a sibling rivalry stare contest where the first one who blinks loses. Of course, neither ever blink and it goes on for the duration of the movie, mostly seen in the background or in quick glances. It works because with all of the hoopla going on in the film, you forget about these characters only to have them briefly reintroduced, inducing a nice smile. It was the skillfulness of moments like these that saved this flick from its rapid drollery breakdown. But despite this and the best efforts from the mostly likable cast, Shorts falls just short of being recommendable.

Shorts receives 2.5/5

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