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Movie Review

Shorts

‘Shorts’ is long on hyperactive energy

Shorts Rebel Rodriguez, Leo Howard, and Trever Gagnon in "Shorts," about a group of kids with a magic wishing rock. (Warner Bros./AP)
By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / August 21, 2009

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You might want to avoid topping the kids off with high-fructose corn syrup before going to see “Shorts.’’ The new family feature from Robert Rodriguez, of “Spy Kids’’ fame and “Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl 3D’’ infamy, is, if anything, even more hopped up than those films. If you want to peel your children off the ceiling after the end credits, by all means load up on the Slushees. Be warned, though: This is the multiplex equivalent of ADD.

The story line is simple: bored suburban kids, silly parents, magic wishing rock, go. Nothing that wouldn’t be out of place on Nickelodeon. Rodriguez rearranges the chapter-like “shorts’’ out of sequence, though, fast-forwarding and rewinding and pausing the action with literal video-control icons on the screen. It’s like a young Charlie Kaufman got hold of your TV remote and won’t let it go.

Jimmy Bennett - a charmless Macaulay Culkin clone - plays Toby Thompson, the bullied brace-face hero at the center of the mayhem. He and spacy schoolmate Loogie (Trevor Gagnon) are the first to pass the rainbow-colored rock from outer space between them, wishing for fortresses and miniature alien friends and endless supplies of Nutrageous bars (so plentiful I’m guessing Reese’s paid for the entire production).

This is all simple fun - what kid wouldn’t want a wishing rock? - presented with manic overexuberance. Things get weirder when the grown-ups get in on the act. Toby’s parents (Jon Cryer and Leslie Mann) wish to be closer and turn into Siamese twins; a giant CGI booger terrorizes a germaphobic neighbor (William H. Macy) and his son (Jake Short); a very tired-looking James Spader, as the parents’ corporate meanie boss, grows big ears and turns into a Transformer (shhh, don’t tell the kids).

“Shorts,’’ in other words channels the same gross-out overkill as the “Captain Underpants’’ books that parents endure and pre-teen boys so dearly love. The difference is that those books have an editor (and they’re funnier). Rodriguez throws 10 ideas at the screen at any given time; usually only one or two stick. The boss’s high-tech product, a handheld superdevice, is a nice parody of PDAs, iPods, iPhones, and what have you, and the movie skewers the kind of Type-A parents who text each other within the same room. Those notions compete with a zillion others, though, and the movie just ends up slapping you silly.

Lost in the aggro-entertainment is a sharp little performance from Jolie Vanier as Toby’s schoolyard enemy/love-object - Rodriguez may have found the next Christina Ricci - and an enjoyably dreamy one from Gagnon. “Shorts’’ plays well to its narrow 8-to-11 niche, and that’s probably all that matters. Still, if any movie can be said to have too much imagination, it’s this one. I don’t want to be around when Rodriguez comes down off his sugar buzz.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.

SHORTS Written and directed by: Robert Rodriguez

Starring: Jimmy Bennett, Jolie Vanier, Trevor Gagnon, Jon Cryer, Leslie Mann, William H. Macy, James Spader

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 89 minutes

Rated: PG (mild action, some rude humor)

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