Jimmy Bennett as Toe Thompson
Jake Short as Nose Noseworthy
Kat Dennings as Stacey Thompson
Trevor Gagnon as Loogie
Devon Gearhart as Cole Black
Jolie Vanier as Helvetica Black
Rebel Rodriguez as Lug
Leo Howard as Laser
Leslie Mann as Mom Thompson
Jon Cryer as Dad Thompson
William H. Macy as Dr. Noseworthy
James Spader as Mr. Black
Angela Lanza as Teacher
Alejandro Rose-Garcia as John / Boyfriend
Written and Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Despite a good concept and a strong cast, "Shorts" ends up being yet another jumbled mess that only kids can enjoy.
Toe Thompson lives in the suburb of Black Falls. Everyone living there is somehow associated with "Black Box Unlimited Worldwide," a company that makes a device that can turn into anything you want. Toe's parents work there while he goes to school and tries to survive being bullied by some kids and a young girl named Helvetica Black. He could use a few friends to back him up, but he doesn't have any.
Black Falls is turned upside-down when a mysterious rainbow colored rock falls from the sky. It turns out it is a wishing rock. But as Toe and various other inhabitants of Black Falls get their hands on it and make their wishes, they discover that you should be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.
"Shorts" is rated PG for mild action and some rude humor.
I think it's great that Robert Rodriguez is creating these labors of love for his kids. (His children actually have cameos in the film.) There are a lot of other things the Texan independent filmmaker could be doing, but it's obvious he and his cast are having fun creating these children's movies.
As far as aiming to please your target audience goes, Rodriguez certainly knows what he's doing. I can't think of any better way to entertain boys under 10 than to have a giant booger monster trying to eat a kid, aliens doing chores, and crocodiles attacking robots. My boys who are age 4 and 7 absolutely loved "Shorts." If I had been their age, I would have loved it, too.
Rodriguez is always able to get strong casts for his films and he does it again in "Shorts." He has well known actors such as James Spader (playing an evil Steve Jobs), William H. Macy (playing a germ phobic father), Jon Cryer (as Dad), and Leslie Mann (as Mom). It's kind of obvious they're doing this movie to impress a young family member somewhere, but they seem to have fun doing it. Most of the rest of the cast is made up of unknowns, but Jimmy Bennett who plays Toe Thompson was last seen in "Star Trek" as young James T. Kirk. This kid is certainly getting around! He does a pretty good job in the lead role.
"Shorts" has a few highlights that even adults will love. In one scene Stacey tells her boyfriend over the phone that she wishes he'd grow up. As her wish technically comes true, over the phone we hear his horrified response to what is happening. It's one of those situations where what you imagine is going on is better than whatever Rodriguez could put on the screen. In other scenes a telepathic super baby ends up stealing the show from everyone despite the fact that she's sitting there doing almost nothing. Then there are the two siblings having a staring contest in the background throughout the entire film. All these little touches are bright points in the story.
What Didn't Work:
Like all of Rodriguez's other kids films, this one has a lot of problems if you're an adult. The plot is rather random, the dialogue is at times atrocious, and no matter how strongly it starts out, it ends as an absolute mess. His last few films have ended with some improbable free for all in the middle of the street where all the heroes and villains inexplicably end up as friends and defeat some CGI menace destroying the town. "Shorts" is no different. Rodriguez also manages to make even the most impressive actors and actresses look foolish in a bad way. Leslie Mann, one of my favorite actresses, manages to deliver the terrible dialogue in the finale with a straight face, but it's painful to watch. Spader, another one of my favorites, embarrassingly flips out in the finale as well. These won't be high points in their careers.
"Shorts" gets its name from the fact that the lead character, Toe, retells the story as a series of short stories. They're jumbled up and out of chronological order. It's a good idea in theory but simply doesn't work in execution. It adds nothing to the story and is more confusing than anything. If Rodriguez had been using multiple directors, it might have made more sense. Unfortunately that isn't the case.
There are also a number of things that make you shake your head and say, "What was Rodriguez thinking?" In one scene Helvetica grabs the class pet fish and stuffs it in her mouth in order to terrorize Toe. Huh? In another scene Toe has broken arms but doesn't wish they were healed. Why not? In the finale Helvetica wants the wishing rock for her father, then immediately sides with Toe and decides she must take the wishing rock from him. Make up your mind! There are a lot more, but you get the idea. The script really needed help.
I keep finding myself wishing that Rodriguez would get a great script for a kids movie written by someone else and direct that. I think only then will he create something that both kids and their parents can really enjoy together.
The Bottom Line:
The only reason to watch "Shorts" is to see your kids enjoy it. Watching my kids giggle at a booger monster made the outing worthwhile. Pass on it unless you really enjoyed "Sharkboy and Lava Girl" or the "Spy Kids" sequels because they're all of equal quality.