A bung-hole stopper
Robert Rodriguez stunned the cinema world about a dozen years ago with the low budget El Mariachi, a story of mistaken identity, a lethal guitar case, and a mariachi who just wants to play his instrument. Since then, the director has not had to scrounge for money and exceeds expectations with movies as varied as Spy Kids and Sin City.
After seeing the lava scene in Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, director Rodriguez' son, Racer, came up with the story for The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl. Dad then created a song of praise to that imagination, certainly not in short supply in the Rodriguez family. Max (Cayden Boyd) dreams and makes real the fantastic heroes of his mind. The film labors to be cute and instructive, two characteristics better left by themselves in movies or kept the province of artists like animators at Dreamworks.
One hero of Max's imagination can melt whatever she wants by ejecting lava; the other can do considerable damage with his teeth. Max's school bully and the electronics teacher are transformed through Max's imagination into look-alikes of Reddy Kilowatt and Flash Gordon's evil Ming the Merciless. Thus ensues an adventure not as sharp as Spy Kids nor as accomplished as Frank Miller's Sin City.
The didacticism (exhortations to believe in your dreams, dream with your eyes open, change your life through your dreams, blah, blah) is heavily administered through speechifying at almost every turn. Even the graphics and 3-D are imperfect, cumbersome, dull, and by contemporary standards, pedestrian. Lava and lightening, sharks and ice cube monsters look like elementary school creations.
Max has a McCauley Culkin innocent look without the effeminate innocence and wiliness that made us feel comfortable when he was home alone. The principals, Boyd and Dooley, lack acting skills beyond awkwardly flashing well-attended teeth. A little like the characters from Peter Pan, these children are variously looking for parents either to pay attention to them or work harder at staying together as parents, similar to the four teens of this month's Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a superior young-person's film blessed with solid acting and believable setups.
The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl in 3-D is even worse because the 3-D is still annoying after all these years to perfect that technology and more success with the Spy Kids 3-D.
Shakespeare in Hamlet described the range of imagination: "Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander, till we find it stopping a bung-hole?" This film could at best hold back the wine.