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Trust me, don't grab your 'Shorts'

"Shorts," Robert Rodriguez's goofy kiddie comedy made up of short stories featuring short kids wearing short pants, comes up more than a little short  as family entertainment.

It's full of whiz-bang gadgetry and age-appropriate gross-out humor (giant booger monster, anyone?) best appreciated by kids not yet into their teen years.  

The problem from this aisle seat is that Rodriguez has turned out far superior comedies aimed at kids in the past.  "Shorts" pales in comparison to the first couple of "Spy Kids" adventures (rollicking fun in 2001 and 2002), for instance.

Rodriguez alternates between violence-riddled affairs aimed at adults ("Sin City," "Grindhouse") and comedies for youngsters.  If you know his work, you know he never hesitates to experiment while cranking out films from Troublemaker Studios, his Austin movie production fiefdom.

A zeal to push the envelope has ventured a little too far over the edge this time, however.

"Shorts" tells the story of an 11-year-old named Toe Thompson ( Jimmy Bennett, recently on screen in "Orphan").  Toe is bullied at school and living a miserable young life until a magic Rainbow Rock falls from the sky and whispers, "Make a wish."

Perhaps thinking that the story line was too basic, Rodriguez ramps up the action-adventure madly; like a filmmaking kid might do if he spent the day guzzling  a six pack of his parents'  Red Bull.

With Toe as narrator, "Shorts" leaps back and forth in time, rewinding like a big-screen DVD.  At one point Rodriguez freezes the action (complete with the remote control pause icon on screen), then rewinds.

I'm guessing most of the tykes in the audience won't quite grasp that Rodriguez's aim here is to present sort of a disjointed kiddie  version of his buddy Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction."

Some of the adults might snap onto what's going on.  But shouldn't  an action-adventure targeted at kids be, you know,  presented in a manner they can follow?

The idea for "Shorts" -- at least the wishing rock angle -- came from Rodriguez's son Rebel, who was 6 when inspiration struck.  I admire Rodriguez for incorporating his son's idea into the plot, which is also inspired by vintage "Little Rascals" comic shorts.

It's just too bad that all the frantic antics like a telephone ear piece popping out of a kid's head, the aforementioned marauding booger monster and a scientist (William H. Macy) terrified of germs, don't add up to much fun.

Some of the adult actors are completely wasted.  That's especially the case for James Spader, the gifted co-star of "Boston Legal," who portrays powerful villain Carbon Black.

Young feature film newcomer Jolie Vanier fares much better as Helvetica Black, a grim-faced bully daughter.  Helvetica Black is the first movie character I can recall named after a printing typeface font.

As usual, Rodriguez dots his cast with family members.  His infant niece Bianca makes a pretty impressive movie debut as the baby sister.  By impressive, I mean no noticeable drooling.  And even son Rebel -- Mister  Inspiration -- has a small role as Lug, the video game-obsessed brother.

If I could get my hands on that shiny, multicolored rock, though, I'd wish for a movie more fun to watch and with a more linear structure.

Wait a minute, that might be my second wish.  What's the lottery jackpot up to?


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