Follow your dreams, we tell little kids. Dare to imagine! You are the master of your universe! Maybe we shouldn’t tell them that, because then they grow up thinking that cleverness and talent and, yup, imagination will take them places, when we all really know that the world does its level best to beat such things out of us before we get too uppity, start thinking, and stop buying stuff, all of which can only lead to heartbreak, neuroses, and prescriptions for Prozac. Or else they turn into Robert Rodriguez, and inflict upon the world the unmerciful products of an imagination run batshit crazy on the power — the mad, glorious power! — of cheap modern consumer electronics.
Look, it’s terrific that Rodriguez (Sin City) has earned for himself the opportunity to do his own thing in an industry like Hollywood that, as much as it is ostensibly a creative one, doesn’t generally encourage the wildly inventive or reward them when it happens to stumble across them. But the movies that Rodriguez makes in his garage with his camcorder and his laptop — like, um, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D — make you wonder if just a little bit of interference from money guys with their bottom line and marketing girls with their focus groups is such a terrible evil after all. Cuz is it really so bad to expect a sense of coherence or a smattering of, I dunno, emotion from a flick?
This one isn’t quite as batshit-crazy insane as Rodriguez’s Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, but almost. It’s based on the fever dreams of Rodriguez’s son, Racer Max, and the kid’s got a nice sense of the ridiculously pulpy with his creations of Sharkboy and Lavagirl — the former was lost at sea as a baby, where “the sharks raised him as their own and taught him the way of the shark,” which means that now, as a 12-year-old or so, he has pointy teeth and wears a rubber fin; the latter is made of molten rock, though this quality seems to cause consternation only when it’s funny and/or inconvenient: she doesn’t melt through the floor or anything, though she does leave burnt footprints across the lawn; mostly, it’s just that her hair is pink. But that’s about the extent of the potentially amusing content here, and the elder Rodriguez (his producer, Elizabeth Avellan, is also his wife, making this a real family party) doesn’t seem to have lent an adult storyteller’s expertise to any of the proceedings, obviously preferring to make a kids’ film that looks and sounds and feels as if it were actually made by kids who’d broken into Dad’s toolshed and borrowed his filmmaking toys.
I assume that Planet Drool is the invention of young Racer, for who else but second-grader would conceive of “a planet so cool it makes you drool,” which means it looks like a TV commercial for a sugary breakfast cereal and/or the audiovisual component of one of those theme-park simulator rides, you know, the kind that knock you around and make you feel like you’re in the space shuttle or something. Young Max (Cayden Boyd: Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Mystic River) gets swept off, Wizard of Oz style, by a tornado to Planet Drool, where Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner) and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley) need his help to keep Planet Drool from dying — it’s all a manifestation of Max’s dreams, see, and what with everyone from his mom (Kristin Davis) to his teacher (George Lopez) scolding him for being such a dreamy kid, the planet is threatened with some kind of disaster or other. That’s the kind of self-centeredness only a kid could dream up, and while I’m sure it’s a sign of a healthy sense of self-esteem on Racer’s part, it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a sophisticated or even interesting exploration of the childhood psyche.
But really, all Sharkboy and Lavagirl aspires to is throwing 3-D stuff at you off the screen: blobby, fakey, candy-colored CGI stuff, mostly. Its use can’t even be called a novelty, because there’s nothing novel about it, except perhaps to the little tykes in the multiplex who missed Spy Kids 3-D and so have never worn those blue-and-red cardboard glasses before, seeing as how they rightly went out of fashion in the 1950s. The 3-D can’t even be called a gimmick, because even that would imply that there’s something catchy about. It’s simply tedious.
We can forgive little seven-year-old Racer Max his boyish fantasies, but his dad should have known better than to pass them on to the rest of the world unfiltered.