Jumping around chronologically through six episodes thanks to the narrator’s magical ability to pause, fast-forward, and rewind the story’s events, Robert Rodriguez’s Shorts may have a more complex narrative than Spy Kids but it’s otherwise just as bland. This is especially disappointing considering that it’s Rodriguez’s first film since Planet Terror, probably the most fun and well made of Rodriguez’s films. Shorts is a minor work for the Rodriguez, whose limited vision makes him more journeyman than auteur, and a poor excuse for him to show off what Troublemaker Studios, his special-effects cadre, can do.
Like Spy Kids, Shorts‘s charms entirely reside in its boundless energy. It gracelessly blasts forward from plot point to plot point thinking that it only needs to look busy to grab its audience’s attention. The film plays out like a game of narrative hot potato, tossing a magical, rainbow-colored wishing stone between various kid protagonists. Kid A uses the rock, wishes for a castle, crocodiles, superpowers, whatever, then pitches the rock to Kid B, who does the same, usually involving lots of icky, gross things like boogers or barf and uninspired pratfalls. (If there were a single memorable performer, these monotonous installments might be funny, but unfortunately the best performer this movie’s got is young Jolie Vanier, who plays a pint-sized version of a more emo than goth version of Christina Ricci circa The Addams Family.)
The problem isn’t that Shorts is just the same thing over and over again, it’s that it’s the same tepid thing over and over again. While Rodriguez is using the rainbow rock’s ability to effectively do anything as a means of critiquing our greater dependence on iPhones and other all-in-one technologies (the film’s villain, played by James Spader, is like Steve Jobs as played by a John Hodgman impersonator), he just doesn’t have the creative firepower to match his effects team’s capabilities. Which is pretty sad considering how much time he wastes encouraging kids to make up activities to keep themselves amused.