Shorts (PG) ***

Rebel Rodriguez, Trevor Gagnon and Leo Howard take their turn with the magical rock. Photo: Warner Bros.

By Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald

You might say Robert Rodriguez’s latest kids’ movie has something for everybody. Parents who appreciate Oscar-nominated actors can enjoy William H. Macy as a germ-fearing scientist dad. Pretty in Pink fans nostalgic over the recent death of John Hughes can wonder how goofy Duckie (Jon Cryer) appears to be aging so much more smoothly than pretty-boy Stef (James Spader). Rodriguez buffs can amuse themselves by trying to spot the director’s three sons among the young cast. And kids — who, of course, are the primary target here — are going to enjoy the crocodile army and the giant carnivorous booger monster.

And who can blame them, really? Shorts may not be destined for long-term greatness — it feels cheerfully disposable in every way — but the film is also fast and funny, and grown-ups will not suffer sitting through it (even that gross booger monster offers an amusing reminder of why one should not pick one’s nose).

Set up as a series of nonchronological “shorts” that resemble cartoon episodes, the film centers on Toby “Toe” Thompson (Jimmy Bennett), a suburban kid whose life in Black Falls, Texas, changes when he finds a magical, rainbow-colored rock that grants wishes. Bullied by the bossy Helvetica (Jolie Vanier, a mini Christina Ricci) and her sociopathic minions, Jimmy wishes for friends, and they arrive in the form of teeny but resourceful aliens. As the rock gets shuffled around town, other kids in the neighborhood get wishes granted, too, and new adventures begin. But when the adults (Cryer and Leslie Mann as Toe’s workaholic parents and Spader as their cold-hearted boss) inadvertently get their hands on the rock, things in Black Falls rage out of control.

There’s not much more to the plot, but Rodriguez (the Spy Kids series, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl) tells his tall tales with the good humor and imagination you always wish for in a kids’ movie.

Cast: Jimmy Bennett, Kat Dennings, Jake Short, Trevor Gagnon, William H. Macy, Jon Cryer, Leslie Mann, James Spader, Jolie Vanier.

Director/screenwriter: Robert Rodriguez.

Producers: Elizabeth Avellan, Robert Rodriguez.

A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 89 minutes. Mild action, some rude humor. Playing at area theaters.


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