Five 'Shorts,' In Which Many A Lesson Is Learned

W: Jimmy Bennett as Toe Thompson in 'Shorts' i i

hide captionJimmy Bennett is Toe Thompson, the metal-mouthed, picked-on narrator-hero of Robert Rodriguez' new parable Shorts.

Warner Bros. Pictures
W: Jimmy Bennett as Toe Thompson in 'Shorts'

Jimmy Bennett is Toe Thompson, the metal-mouthed, picked-on narrator-hero of Robert Rodriguez' new parable Shorts.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Shorts

  • Director: Robert Rodriguez
  • Genre: Adventure, Kids, Family
  • Running Time: 89 minutes

Rated PG: mild action, rude humor

With: Jimmy Bennett, Kat Dennings, Devon Gearhart, Rebel Rodriguez and Leo Howard

A preachy parable of suburban discontent, Shorts probably has enough kid-oriented slapstick to please the under-12 set. But it's not likely to rival writer-director Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids series in long-term appeal.

In a gambit that seems designed to amuse the filmmaker more than his audience, the story is divided into five "shorts," which are presented out of order. The central character is grade-schooler Toby "Toe" Thompson (Jimmy Bennett), who lives with his overworked parents (Leslie Mann and Jon Cryer) and disdainful teenage sister (Kat Dennings).

Toe appears in all the stories, but several of them feature other families in the Thompsons's Texas subdivision, Black Falls. It's a newfangled company town whose residents all work for the same man: greedy, tyrannical Carbon Black (James Spader), who markets a shape-shifting PDA that can do, well, almost anything. (Battery life is lousy, though.)

For no reason the movie bothers to imagine, the suburb is suddenly blessed with a magical alternative to the PDA: a rainbow-striped rock that grants wishes. Shock, chaos and mild hilarity ensue as the object passes through many hands. Some people make their wishes carelessly; others idly wish without knowing that the rock will fulfill their request.

Friendless Toe wears braces and is tormented every school day by a gang led by Carbon Black's daughter, Helvetica. (She's played by Jolie Vanier, who might have been cloned from the Addams Family-era Christina Ricci.) Toe and "Hel" contend for the rainbow rock, which is ultimately seized by the girl's father. He, of course, needs to learn a few lessons in humility and humanity.

As the tale hops forward and backward, the magic stone falls temporarily under the control of adventurous Loogie (Trevor Gagnon), who summons crocodiles, cobras and a pterodactyl. (His surname, by the way, is Short.) The rock also creates a Ghostbusters-style monster out of nasal mucus excavated by Nose (Jake Short), the son of a germophobic scientist (William H. Macy).

Among the other derivative digital characters are a fleet of miniature aliens piloting saucer-sized flying saucers and a Transformers-style mechanical man. To keep the kids giggling, various characters are splattered with mud, crocodile spitup or pterodactyl poop.

Jolie Vanier as Helvetica Black and Jimmy Bennett as Toe Thompson in "Shorts." i i

hide captionJolie Vanier (left, with Bennett) plays the hilariously named Helvetica Black — daughter of the town's big cheese, and tormenter of our hero.

Warner Bros. Pictures
Jolie Vanier as Helvetica Black and Jimmy Bennett as Toe Thompson in "Shorts."

Jolie Vanier (left, with Bennett) plays the hilariously named Helvetica Black — daughter of the town's big cheese, and tormenter of our hero.

Warner Bros. Pictures

One of the movie's morals is that people should collaborate rather than compete, and Shorts is quite the family undertaking. The director is also credited as a producer, editor, cinematographer and soundtrack composer, and several young Rodriguezes appear on screen. Toward the end of the credits, young Jimmy Bennett pops up to announce that he wrote the song we're hearing.

It's not a very good song, though, and it's just one of many ingredients that demonstrate the limits of good-natured amateurism. Here's a message Shorts neglects to convey: Giving a script another pass through the word processor might be a more productive strategy than relying on such hackneyed devices as a magic rock.

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