I deeply admire Robert Rodriguez for the same reason I admire Roger Corman. When their movies are good (Rodriguez’s “El Mariachi,” “Spy Kids” and “Sin City” and Corman’s stylish Poe adaptations), they are terrific and clearly made with love. The filmmakers’ devotion to their craft trumped their microscopic budgets. And when their films are bad, you can at least feel relief knowing that nobody paid much for them.That comforting thought makes it easier to sit through Rodriguez’s latest “The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl in 3-D.” The multi-tasking filmmaker has outsourced the story to his seven-year-old son Racer Rodriguez, and the lad has clearly inherited his dad’s dense imagination.
In the make-believe planet Drool, where the title characters live, people have to dodge the evil Mr. Electric (George Lopez) and his army of plughounds (dogs with extension chord heads). They also can sail down the Stream of Consciousness (you see lots of brains floating around) or see a different take on milk and cookies.
The eye candy that father and son create would actually be nicer to watch without the 3-D effects. Because of the positioning of the red and blue lenses in the glasses, the colors look flat, and eyestrain starts kicking in.
Unfortunately, Racer also has his father’s occasionally sloppy storytelling (Robert, of course, polished the script). The main plotline features an imaginative lad named Max (Cayden Boyd) who gets bullied by his classmate Linus (Jacob Davis) because Max insists his superhero pals Shark Boy (Taylor Lautner) and Lava Girl (Taylor Dooley) are real.
His skeptical teacher Mr. Electricidad (Lopez) doesn’t do much to help the lad, and his parents (Kristen Davis and David Arquette) do little but argue with each other. Before Max can get too upset, his pals show up and take him to Drool to save the planet.
It’s hard to tell what the Rodriguez family intended to convey with the film. The “Spy Kids” movies were able to stress the importance of family without getting preachy. With jarring changes in tone and sketchy characters in “Shark Boy and Lava Girl,” it’s hard to tell why people (and imaginary creatures) are behaving the way they do or to be interested in their welfare. Having Lautner abruptly break into awful song doesn’t help things proceed.
The cast seem to be struggling with the effects that they can’t see during shooting, and some look confused, bored or (in Lopez’s case) competing with the special effects.Because Robert Rodriguez’s quick and cheap techniques, he’s more likely to come back with something more worthy of his talents. It’s a shame that viewers have discovered Racer Rodriguez’s talents before he’s really had a chance to develop them.