Say this for director Robert Rodriguez: He sure loves his kids. For his kindergarten-friendly follow-up to this spring's gritty Sin City, the multi-faceted filmmaker decided to let his 7-year-old son, the evocatively named Racer Max Rodriguez, dream up a scenario. But maybe Rodriguez listened a little too closely.
The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D is like sitting through a 5-year-old's description of his trip to Disney World: Incredibly cute for about 10 minutes, but breathlessly repetitive and muddled for the remaining 80.
The film's prologue introduces us to our bland, Culkin-esque hero Max (Cayden Boyd) and his "dream journal," in which he scribbles tales of his fantasy superhero friends. Picked on by bullies and his anti-fun teacher (George Lopez), Max suddenly finds himself transported, Neverending Story-style, to Planet Drool ("a planet so cool, it makes you drool"), a dream-powered place that features chocolate-chip mountains, ice castles and, yes, his made-up pals Shark Boy (Taylor Lautner) and Lava Girl (Taylor Dooley). From there, the adventures grow progressively blander; it's hard to tell why Max is in his fantasy world, or what he has to accomplish before leaving.
As with his previous kiddie efforts, the Spy Kids series, Rodriguez seems to deliberately refer to cheesy '50s family adventures. But the director doesn't seem to understand the difference between, say, Tim Burton's idea of '50s kitsch and that of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The actors both kids and adults are stiff and unnatural, and every line of dialogue sounds like a moral. Borrowing a page from the last (and least) Spy Kids flick, most of the film is meant to be watched through old-fashioned cardboard 3-D goggles, which mostly just make everything darker and blurrier than it should be. And when a kids' movie has so little appeal for adults, the least it can do is provide a couple of eye-popping sequences.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.