The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D
Director Robert Rodriguez lets loose his vibrant imagination and wild imagery in this campy but amusing tale of a young boy whose lost power to daydream is found with the help of his minscapes into his imagination where he dreams of other worlds and records them in his journal. His favorite daydreams are of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (Taylor Lautner and Taylor Dooley) from the Planet Drool, an unlikely duo with unusual superpowers. Back on Earth, bully Linus (Jacob Davich) and his hard-bitten crew steal the journal after a playground chase, leaving poor Max without any memory of his dreams. Dreading the next day of school, Max falls asleep hoping that his dreams will take him far away. Instead, he wakes up in the same dreary bed and plods back to school to face his worst nightmare. But things are about to change. While in class, Sharkboy and Lavagirl spring forth out of a fierce tornado, much to the surprise of everyone. They've come to take Max to Planet Drool where a dark cloud threatens to forever turn dreams into nightmares. Without his journal to guide him, Max jumps aboard the Train of Thought and sails along the Stream of Consciousness to the Land of Milk and Cookies in order to save the planet from falling into perpetual darkness--if only he could harness the power of his dreams.
Unless you've got Dakota Fanning in your movie, any other child actor isn't likely to give a riveting performance. The three newcomers in Sharkboy and Lavagirl are no exception. Boyd mopes about as the bland and timid Max, with his two main reactions--pouting and whining--grating to the point that you end up rooting for the bullies. As half-boy, half-shark, Lautner fairs a bit better, exuding a cheeky bravado that masks a longing to find his father. He even sports some nifty martial arts moves, though some of the more difficult ones look animated. Dooley has the biggest challenge as the purple-haired spitfire made of molten lava. Questioning her identity, as well as whether or not she's evil, the young actress offers the most emotionally complex performance. On the adult side, David Arquette is thrown a bone as Max's dad--an out-of-work writer who's as much of a shiftless dreamer as his son. Arquette plays the unchallenging part with his usual light-hearted dumbness and seems a rather curious choice for Max's straight-laced mom, played bySex and the City's Kristin Davis. What did she ever see in this drip? George Lopez does double-duty as Max's teacher, Mr. Electricidad, and Planet Drool's high-voltage enforcer, Mr. Electric, whose tiresome puns on watts and megahertz are painful even to himself.
Written by Robert Rodriguez. Directed by Robert Rodriguez. Cinematography by Robert Rodriguez. Edited by Robert Rodriguez. Catered by Robert Rodriguez. Is there nothing this man can't do? Oh, that's right--make a great film. Sure, Rodriguez has plenty of creativity, talent and imagination, if only he'd learn to share once in awhile. Don't get me wrong. This movie is fine entertainment for the kiddies, much like his Spy Kids series. But his vision tends to get crushed in the iron grip of his unflinching control. While always stylish, his movies often lack depth, nuance and fresh ideas--the very qualities other collaborators can bring to the process. Sharkboy and Lavagirl also marks his second attempt at 3-D--a cheap cinematic ploy that adds nothing special and turns otherwise vibrant cinematography into a monochromatic mess. Used for two-thirds of the movie (an annoying ''Glasses On/Glasses Off'' graphic prompts the audience), the effect distracts from rather than enhances the experience. Moviegoers--no matter their age--are too savvy to be impressed by CG objects hurtling towards them. Sharkboy and Lavagirl's theme is simple: ''Everything that is or was started with a dream.'' My dream is that the director starts sharing the love.
Despite a near-dictatorial approach to filmmaking, Robert Rodriguez manages to create a unique world with Sharkboy and Lavagirl, in which kids dare to dream the impossible. If only he would allow other creative voices to join the chorus, then maybe he would make a truly great film, rather than a merely sufficient one.