ZERO STARS/**** Image A Sound A Extras D
starring Jon Cryer, William H. Macy, Leslie Mann, James Spader
written and directed by Robert Rodriguez
by Walter Chaw George Bernard Shaw posited that one should "make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself." Transposed to film, it seems more often than not that when one refers to a "kid's movie," it means that it's a piece of shit no one in their right mind would watch, so: give it to your little ones. Go farther with it and find that said pieces of shit are also above critique for most, defended with the unassailable notion that if their toddlers enjoyed it, then what's the harm? Except that the reason children aren't allowed to make decisions for themselves is because they'd choose to watch stuff like Shorts, Robert Rodriguez joints rolled exclusively for the molly-coddling of his children, who come up with this shit for their rebel-with-a-crew daddy to crank out of his make-hole.
It's wrong, though, to say I hated Shorts--more in line that I felt about it what parents feel about other people's kids when the adorable bastards are out in public and nothing is being done to curb their wretched behaviour. Stuff like this, like Rodriguez's Spy Kids franchise and his abhorrent The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in [eye-bleeding] 3-D, is the definition of obnoxious, deadening, empty distraction. Look, I have two kids (ages 3 and 6), and both gave up on the film after half-an-hour. So busy it's banal, is my guess, although there are any number of reasons to be proud of them for their decision to go draw on the walls instead. Having nothing for the youngsters, it also has nothing for the parents, save a bad headache and a real strong tickle to do a hard reassessment of everything Rodriguez has ever done.
Tween Toe (Jimmy Bennett) is the narrator of the piece. Like Thornton Wilder's Stage Manager, he jumps backwards and forwards through time in his hometown of Black Falls, essaying the titular shorts into a final orgy of CGI-enhanced mucus and flatulence. The premise is that a magical wishing rock teaches everyone a "Monkey's Paw" lesson in being careful what you ask for, though were any one moment a fraction as clever or dread-filled as W.W. Jacobs's classic turn-of-the-century creeper, we'd be talking about Shorts in terms of, say, a Zathura instead of an Attack of the Clones. On display: a tiny horde of best-pal flying saucers for lonesome Toe; a booger monster; a gang of bipedal crocs; and conjoined parents in a sight gag more intriguing to talk about than to endure. Toe's parents (Leslie Mann and Jon Cryer) are wage drones for Steve Jobs-ian Mr. Black (James Spader, looking weirder by the day), their sole purpose apparently to fulfill the kiddie-flick maxim demanding that parents be distracted workaholics who need to rediscover the delight of flying a kite. Yet even that convention is overshadowed by the flick's awesomely facile way with character and story development. I think what most offends about Rodriguez's flicks for kids is that they clearly don't give two craps about challenging children to be better than they are, instead content to revel in their primitivism for what can only be some onanistic gratification. Rodriguez gets off on his kids' essential childishness and it feels selfish and arrested.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Shorts docks on Blu-ray from Warner in, given the HDCAM source, a flawless 1.85:1, 1080p transfer that pops and crackles with the film's cartoon colours. All that palette missing from Sin City? Here it is! It's actually kind of astonishing-looking in a "hooray, the surfaces are like buttah!" way, and I'd call it out as the shallow showcase stuff it is were I less afraid that people would read it as an endorsement. It takes a while to get to the film, by the way, what with forced trailers for everything from a Nintendo DS game to "A Charlie Brown Christmas" to the dtv-craptavaganza Scooby-Doo: The Beginning. There's also a reel for the upcoming LEGO Harry Potter game, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Warner's Blu-ray slate, which feverishly advocates for viewers of this Blu-ray Disc to purchase a Blu-ray player on which to watch other Blu-ray Discs. Once in the heat of it, the audio comes in the form of a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track that is every bit as obnoxious as the movie it decorates. If you could spank an audio track, you'd spank this one. Seriously. Levels are good, dialogue horrifically clear, and when the objects constantly zooming back and forth on screen make burping noises, said noises dutifully materialize in the correct speakers.
Four short (get it?) supplements include "10-Minute Cooking School - Chocolate Volcano Cookies", in which Rodriguez and his young daughter demonstrate how to prepare the aforementioned obnoxious-sounding cookies. Listen, I'm sure Rodriguez is a great dad--the best--but I'm reminded of that great moment from Michael Winterbottom's Code 46 where the Samantha Morton character expresses something like surprise that for as special as everyone's children are, isn't it something that the world is full of ordinary adults. "10-Minute Film School - Short Shorts" is the one-man band demonstrating how best to Forrest Gump up every single frickin' thing in the universe with consumer toaster programs. "Magic of Shorts" (9 mins.) is Rodriguez explaining to an audience of presumed-retarded children how it is that he did such miraculous things as create bad CGI in 2009. Finally, there's "Shorts: Show and Tell" (5 mins.), featuring RR's boy-spawn and others speculating what they would wish for with a magic wishing rock. All the special shit on this platter is in HD; a Digital Copy resides on a DVD inside the keepcase. Originally published: January 27, 2010.