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May 13, 2006 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | May 13, 2006 |

You know, you lose me straightaway when the title of your movie is The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D. There are only a few movies that can get away with having a moniker as infantile as that, and most of them are anime porn. And having to put on those ass-demolishingly gay sunglasses in order to enjoy the film’s special effects doesn’t help matters much.

But hey, this is Robert Rodriguez. The man has managed to get away with more than a few crazy stunts in his career and come out comparatively unscathed. This time around he’s tackling familiar territory in three-dimensional children’s fantasy, helped out along the way by the rest of his family: wife Elizabeth Avellen produced, sons Racer, Rebel, and Rocket suggested ideas and images and played supporting roles, and his brother and sister contributed to the script. Practically everyone in the Clan Rodriguez had a hand in this yarn, and what they come up with is a truly numbing theatrical experience.

It’s the tale of Max (Cayden Boyd), a pathological fantasist, and his relationship with imaginary super-friends Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner) and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley). Max is struggling with the opposing forces of adolescence — his mother and teacher are hounding him to get his head out of the clouds, and his father is encouraging him to embrace his fantastical imagination, an indulgence which is getting him harassed on the schoolyard.

After a brutal episode in which his “dream journal” is pillaged and defaced by bullies, the polarities in Max’s life spiral out of control and his imaginary heroes whisk him away to the Planet … (sigh) … Drool — a world embodying his connection to the fantastic realms of his imagination. Because of his waning interest in dreams, Planet Drool is being threatened by sinister forces, represented by Max’s teacher (George Lopez) and alpha bully (Jacob Davich). All jaunts into the imaginary land of Drool are done in Rodriguez’s trademark 3-D sequences.

There are some seriously heavy-handed metaphors going on in the story. Everything in Max’s “real” world is represented by comic-bookish parallel forces on Drool, and the writing and storytelling in this regard is intricate and complex. There also seems to be some genuine attempt to address the serious issues of the repression of child-like imagination that is inherent in the process of growing up. The problem is that whatever subtext the Rodriguez family was playing at gets utterly and completely drowned in the cartoonish sensationalism and blown away by a haze of visual effects.

Rodriguez has long been an unapologetic proponent of mania in his writing and acting, which made him the perfect choice to direct graphically violent pulp like Desperado and Sin City. In Sharkboy, however, the over-the-top antics from the characters and situations ruin what could have been fine bildungsroman storytelling. And while Rodriguez is clearly pandering to the little ones packed in the audience, the pure and the puerile do not make good bedfellows. Not in the least.

Compounding its failures in the story department, Sharkboy’s promised 3-D effects err on the side of indulgence. The visuals popping out of the screen are definitely enough to make Drool seem engaging and ethereal, but the overlong exposure only highlights how crappy the film would be without the crutch of visual flair, and leave anyone over five in the audience completely nauseated.

Having been disappointed on all fronts and saddled for the rest of the day with a splitting headache, I can only hope that next time Rob and the Family Rodriguez decide to weave together another children’s yarn they opt out of making it into another shitty film.

Phillip Stephens is a movie critic for Pajiba.

Film | May 13, 2006 |

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