Touting Sin City at Cannes, Robert Rodriguez claimed that small budgets accord him greater creative freedom. Maybe so. But most directors would think twice before spinning a screenplay out of their children’s personal fantasies, and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D is essentially an elaborate show-and-tell presentation.
Based on characters created by Rodriguez’s then-seven-year-old son, Racer Max, the film doesn’t belong in wide release. It belongs on a refrigerator door, alongside “100%” spelling tests, old lunch menus, and notices from the PTA.
It’s too early to write off young Racer Max, who, based on the subject matter, might be a budding surrealist. Adventures charts the part-dream, part-reality voyage of 10-year-old Max (Cayden Boyd), spirited away from the classroom bully during a Wizard of Oz twister and taken to Planet Drool, a Seussian wasteland controlled by the sinister Mr. Electric, who looks a lot like Max’s teacher Mr. Electricidad (both are played by George Lopez). Max’s allies are Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner) and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley)—naturally, a boy raised by sharks and a girl who spews lava—who guide Max through his subconscious and teach him to use daydreams as weapons. If only Rodriguez himself weren’t sleepwalking. His most inventive pop-up effects were already used in Spy Kids 3-D, and the cardboard glasses, refracting the imagery through a headache-inducing prism, only make the sets look cheaper. Inspiration often strikes in unlikely places, but here’s a movie where, quite literally, no one looked further than the backyard.