Austin's rebel without a crew, Robert Rodriguez works in exactly two filmmaking modes: fast, cheap genre violence (the El Mariachi trilogy, Sin City, Planet Terror), and fast, cheap, CGI-overloaded family adventure (the Spy Kids trilogy, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D). One of the latter, Shorts is a cute and mildly clever fantasy about a nerdy suburban tween named "Toe" (Jimmy Bennett), who finds a rainbow-colored stone with wish-fulfillment powers; with the comic elasticity of a Tex Avery cartoon, the simplistic plot's limitless possibilities are digitally and unsubtly rendered. (Calling all dung beetles, upright crocodiles, man-size frankfurters, and booger monsters!) Structured episodically, but cheekily out of order, the film introduces Toe's friends, family, schoolyard enemies, and broadly eccentric neighbors — including germaphobic scientist William H. Macy and dictatorial CEO James Spader, for whom every parent works to improve a portable gadget that transforms into near-everything — as each comes into perilous contact with the magical rock. Be careful what you wish for, as we learned as adolescents, which is precisely who and only who this rowdy romp is for — though I'd score points for Jon Cryer and Leslie Mann's slapstick as Toe's accidentally conjoined folks.


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