Robert Rodriguez’s Shorts –
AUTEUR FINDS LIBERATION THROUGH SILLINESS
by Kevin Bowen
published August 21, 2009
now playing nationwide
The two auteurs who paired last two years ago for Grindhouse – Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino – each has a film coming out today.
Basterds is expected to be a strange trip through a fictional World War II. For sheer lunacy, Rodriguez’s kids film Shorts, surprisingly, might give it a run as the crazier of the two.
There’s no other way to say it: it’s a kids film on acid. I say this as one of the squarest guys you will ever meet. It was about the point
in time when the children were attacked by the enormous mutant booger that I began to wonder exactly what this film would look like if the
viewer were stoned. And like some late seventies excess piece, it keeps getting weirder. And weirder.
Shorts starts with a brother and sister who take that old vacation car-time game – the staring contest – and do
it to marathon lengths over several days. That’s just before the credits. Once the film really gets rolling, it divides into several
out-of-order shorts surrounding dorky ToeThompson (Jimmy Bennett), his elementary schoolmates, the neighborhood parents, and a little shadowy
bully girl named Helvetica Black (Jolie Vanier) who comes with her own cheesy theme song. All of these shorts revolve around a rainbow-colored
stone that grants wishes to the holder.
In the hands of the children, the neighborhood is suddenly crawling with
booger monsters, bipedal crocodiles, an all-knowing baby girl, and parents literally attached at the hip. Of course, that’s barely out of the
abnormal in this company town that produces the Black Box, a lego-like all-purpose device that can do roughly anything. It’s manufactured at
Black Industries by its diabolical owner (James Spader), who would love to have the stone himself.
Rodriguez does something clever –he uses the allowable silliness of
children’s movie as a liberating opportunity for exploration. It’s a little post-modern, particularly in its out-of-order storytelling. I wish
it were a little more consistently successful. I admire the energy and daffiness, but ultimately it chases its own tail.
kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com