Robert Rodriguez’s latest kiddie fantasy centres on a rainbow-striped wishing rock. So far, so Jackanory. But don’t expect quaint storybook charm from this over-inflated bouncy castle of a film.
Taking his title from the five ‘shorts’ that make up the story, Rodriguez jacks us into moppet hero Toe Thompson’s (Jimmy Bennett, Star Trek’s kid Kirk) media-player memory, chaotically skipping, fast-forwarding, pausing and rewinding back and forth across the episodes. It’s like being trapped in the film’s second Macguffin, the ‘Black Box’ – a jack-of-all-trades gizmo that’s an apt metaphor for the guerrilla filmmaker himself.
After Toe gets knocked out of a tree by the magical rock, scattergun wish-making ricochets between various child actors, wreaking cartoony CG havoc that wears thin as the abundance of quirky ideas come too thick, too fast, too undercooked.
A pleasing sub-plot involving Toe’s bully nemesis, the typographically tagged Helvetica Black (Jolie Vanier, whose character name is ‘amusingly’ sung on the soundtrack whenever she appears), gets lost in the whirlwind of mutant boogers, upright crocodiles and tiny UFOs – Rodriguez hoping that most of the target generation won’t have seen
*batteries not included
The adults – cast playing to type – don’t stand a chance. William H Macy (nervy, germ-obsessed scientist), Jon Cryer (Toe’s stuffy, work-obsessed dad), Leslie Mann (Toe’s unfulfilled, workaholic mom) and a portly James Spader (taking several backward career strides as evil tech magnet Mr Black, evoking his Mannequin baddie) all spectacularly fail to make their mark on the frantic antics.
The Sin City director has always been a one-man band, so the writer/producer/cinematographer/composer/editor/FX supervisor/camera operator/director/street sweeper is pretty much solely responsible for this pick’n’mix jumble whose main blessing is being, well, short. Sit it next to the unforced fun of Spy Kids and it just doesn’t make the grade.