In the town of Black Falls a powerful upstart company named Black Box Unlimited manufactures the hottest gadget on the market – a Black Box that does everything one could ever dream up; from toasting to shredding to serving as a state of the art cell phone. Everything in the town, from the houses to the school, is controlled by Mr. Black (James Spader), the tyrannical CEO of the company who fires people at will and joyfully pits married couples against one another in the workplace for entertainment.

This is the cold, bloodless setting for Shorts, the new film by Robert Rodriguez. The hero of the story is Toe (Jimmy Bennett), a young boy who starts off as a tortured soul who constantly finds himself picked on and stuffed into garbage cans. His parents both work for Mr. Black, but even when they are home they have no time to play family as they are all consumed by their black boxes.

Toe’s bad fortune comes to an end when one day he comes across a magical, rainbow-colored rock, which grants him anything he wishes for. He wishes for friends and suddenly he gets them in the form of miniature flying saucers who follow him around cooking meals and taking care of his chores. This is just the beginning of the story, however, because Rodriguez is not content to just serve up another boring movie about pre-teen wish fulfillment.

From there it is rather impossible to try and summarize the plot as Rodriguez’s ADD tendencies get the best of him. The chronology is a jumbled mess as it jumps backwards, then forwards, then further backwards over and over again. This device is a lot of fun at times and Rodriguez makes good use of it, but since Shorts is aimed at children he makes sure that he doesn’t overwhelm his target audience. The closest thing this film has to a true villain is Hellvetica ("Hell" for short which is very appropriate), Mr. Black’s daughter who has learned well from him that squashing the weak is the ticket to success.

She feuds with Toe throughout, constantly sicking her minions on him and ordering his demise. Later in the film, but earlier in the timeline, three brothers come across the rock, which leads to a playful scene where they end up being chased through the woods by cartoon crocodiles that run on two legs. That scene pretty much sums up what Shorts is all about – bringing the fun to the kids no matter how silly or how over the top.

As time goes by everybody in Black Falls learns of the absolute power contained within the rainbow-colored rock. In this case wishing really does make it so and that is precisely the problem. If you’re paying attention during the movie you’ll realize that every single wish that is made backfires on the wisher (unless they wish to undo a previous wish), yet the whole town still devolves into a frenzied Battle Royale to try and capture it.

Rodriguez seems to be saying that the seductive power technology can provide is destroying our lives. Not only are we enduring excruciating work environments just to buy electronic toys, but also once we have the gadgets we let them control our lives. It is a very strong message that may be lost on the younger viewers. Still there is something missing. Shorts has twice the energy and intelligence of G Force but that’s not quite enough to earn it a recommendation. Most of the time it felt too manic and too beholden to the short attention spans we all have these days. The laughs were spread too far apart and stars such as William H. Macy and Kat Dennings were barely used. You could do a lot worse at the multiplex in late August, but certainly you could do better as well.

Starring:Jimmy Bennett, Jon Cryer, Leslie Mann, Kat Dennings

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Runtime: 89 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

Rating: PG

 

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