The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D
2005, PG, 92 min. Directed by Robert Rodriguez. Starring George Lopez, Taylor Lautner, Taylor Dooley, Cayden Boyd, David Arquette, Kristin Davis, Jacob Davich.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 10, 2005
It would seem that Robert Rodriguez, who is just back from Cannes where he showed his other 2005 release – Sin City – in competition, has come a long way as a director since the release of his first feature, El Mariachi, in 1992. Yet The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D seems more a throwback to his early, homemade shorts than a creative advance for the Austin-based jack-of-all-cinematic-trades, who writes, shoots, edits, composes, and does whatever else he pleases on all his films. His films have always been family affairs too, with wife Elizabeth Avellán producing all his features and the filmmaker working repeatedly with several of the same actors and behind-the-scenes talent. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D – a title that can’t be spoken aloud without a smile – is a kids fantasy adventure movie that is based on ideas concocted by the filmmakers’ then 7-year-old son Racer Max Rodriguez, who also receives co-scriptwriting credit. The characters and much of the imagery is certainly inventive. But the film is so flighty and simplistic that Racer’s parents would have done better to include more adult intervention in the storytelling. Ideas and images flit momentarily into view before they’re abandoned just as quickly for some other notion that’s shinier and newer. There’s not much to the story: A kid named Max (Boyd) has a very active dream life to compensate for being bullied at school and worrying about his parents’ fragile marital state at home. Sharkboy (Lautner) and Lavagirl (Dooley) are Max’s creations, and everyone at school razzes him about his imaginary friends, but when the pint-sized superheroes show up in his classroom (presided over by Lopez as the teacher) to carry Max back with them to their home on planet Drool (it’s so cool, you drool), he makes believers out of them all. Swept away to Drool in an Oz-like tornado, Max and the kids enter the world of 3-D. It’s here that most of the film’s imaginative characteristics understandably come into play. Cinephiles will have fun viewing the results of all the technology and green-screen work, and kids should have fun with the take-home 3-D glasses, but the advances are not really dimensional improvements. Like other 3-D work (not to mention his own in Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over), the neato stuff and the fun puncturing of fourth-wall conventions is balanced by the awkward prismatic effects of the red-blue glasses and the putting them on and taking them off, etc. Characters hurl chunks at the screen with amusing frequency, and several set-pieces dazzle, but on the whole, little about Rodriguez’s 3-D is novel. As the three kids travel across Drool on the Train of Thought, through the Stream of Consciousness, toward the Land of Forgotten Dreams, what make the strongest impression are some of these cute little throwaways. The acting is generally amateurish and clunky, and so is the pace, which moves from one concept to the next at a speed that leaves them all half-baked. It is in this respect that Sharkboy and Lavagirl most resembles Rodriguez’s early home movies, which are cast with his extensive brood of school-age siblings and brim with the gee-whiz discovery of film wizardry. Script-wise, the film dutifully harps on the importance of dreams and believing in oneself, but it is painfully repetitive and something that is proclaimed more than demonstrated. (However, I find it most curious that Austin filmmakers Rodriguez and Richard Linklater in Waking Life both have now made movies about dream life.) The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D is a strange Hollywood film, but for a home movie it’s one bang-up job. (See http://www.austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/2005-06-10/screens_feature.html for an interview with the actors who play Sharkboy and Lavagirl.)