With his scintillating adaptation of Frank Miller's Sin City (and a sequel in the pipeline), Robert Rodriguez has left an incendiary calling card to Hollywood stating with intent his calibre as one of the most exciting directors working today. After building up a solid and sporadically brilliant body of work including El Mariachi, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Rodriguez looks finally to have fulfilled on early promise and matured into a filmmaker of some note. Well, he would have if it wasn't for that pesky other Robert Rodriguez. The one he keeps locked away safely in the dungeons of his stately manor while he is actually attempting to make a genuinely good film. Unfortunately for Robert, he just can't keep a lid on this character for ever, and when 'evil' Robert Rodriguez sneaks out, you can be sure some cinematic abomination isn't far behind. 'Evil' Robert has probably as many movie credits as his well-meaning doppelganger, helming The Faculty, and the abominable Spy Kids franchise. Alas he's back with a vengeance, plumbing the depths like never before with The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D. Now if ever a title gave away the inherent quality of a film before even a frame has been watched, it's this baby. The movie is such an affront to humanity that it's difficult to imagine that Rodriguez didn't construct it from an underground lair carved into a volcano, twirling a moustache whilst stroking a Persian cat. The plot, for what it is, is bafflingly extreme in a way only a child with a box of Refresher bars and four litres of Fanta can comprehend. If you thought Pokemon pushed the envelope in terms of hyperactive nonsense then you 'aint seen nothing yet. 10year old Max (Cayden Boyd) finds himself bullied at school. Coming to the rescue are two imaginary characters he has constructed in his head, the rambunctious Sharkboy (he has a big fin on his back and was raised by great whites apparently), and the firebrand Lavagirl (she has....the power of a volcano?? Riiight...). Now that they have popped up in Max's world, the two need his help, as their home planet (the enchantingly titled Planet Drool) appears to be dying of darkness (yes indeedy). Dreams on the planet are turning nasty, and Max is given the role of recreating the land with the power of his imagination. Just kill me now... Unfortunately for the world at large, 'Evil' Robert has two aces up his sleeve. The first one is a real doozy. Look closely at the credits and you will see the story credit goes to one Racer Max Rodriguez, the unfortunately-named son of Robert. The concept and characters were created by him. Just one problem: Racer Max is seven years old. As a general rule there is a good solid reason why children aren't involved in filmmaking. They aren't even creatively involved in a Christmas play because they probably can't get a 15min script of the Bible right, never mind a multi-million dollar production. Once you've accepted that for the next 90minutes you will be trapped in the product of some infant who's had too much sugar, then comes the next body blow. Obviously the travesty that was Spy Kids-3D gave Rodriguez a taste for the format. He forgets the fact that the last time 3-D was a force in any capacity was when you could still go down the corner shop and buy Marathon bars. It was a lousy format then and it's no better now. So prepare to don those ever so uncomfortable cardboard specs for the first time since 1988, and enjoy the vivid scenery in glorious shades of brown. At least they have covered all bases: if the film doesn't give you a headache already, this sure will. Next stop, Migraine City. Ultimately, the fail fails to succeed on any level, being as it is comprised of a string of seemingly unrelated set pieces after another. The sheer randomness of the whole thing is disconcerting. It's less a film, more an elongated advert break in the middle of kids TV on a Saturday morning. What we are left with is an impossibly muddled and incoherent stab at fantasy, with plot holes you could lose a small principality in. The entire film stinks of a vanity product from Rodriguez. To indulge your little nipper's feverish imagination is one thing. To turn it into a film and force it on the unsuspecting public however, is quite another. To make matters worse, the CGI is uniformly poor for the most part, thereby sabotaging the one thing the film had going for it: its elaborately visualised sets. Unlike the films of Pixar or on-song Disney, there is nothing here to entertain and excite if your age is over single figures. Without question this film will prove to be the most arduous endurance test for any unwary parent whose precocious moppets insist on taking over the DVD player and watching it. Even then, it's touch and go as to whether its target audience will lap it up. I remember as a child being enchanted by the likes of Watership Down, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the works of Ralph Bakshi. Films which drew you in with a masterful evocation of fantasy and intelligent scriptwork (even if I was too young to fully comprehend these virtues at the time). This film has none of that. It's cinematic bubblegum. To assume that even the youngest of children will automatically take this vacuous wiz-bang of a movie to their hearts in the same way is I think doing a disservice to the discerning child. I suppose in some sort of perverse way, the film may well prove effective at keeping deviant youngsters in check. The next time you arrive home from work to find that little Johnny has used your new wallpaper as a canvas for crayon scribbles and jam stains, simply threaten him with the unholy prospect of sitting through Sharkboy and Lavagirl again. You'll be guaranteed he'll be doing the dishes and washing your car for the rest of the week. Whereas at the very least the Spy Kids franchise did boast some moderately watchable acting prowess (particular Sly Stallone's entertaining turn in part 3), there is no such restbite to be found here. The child actors do about as much as can be expected of them in that they stand in the right place and remember their lines (although they could spout any nonsense and it wouldn't affect the plot). Given that 90% of screen time is devoted to these (let's be kind) 'rough diamonds' however ultimately yields results akin to watching an episode of Grange Hill on a bad acid trip. Getting off less lightly are Max's parents, played by Kristin Davis (woeful) and David Arquette. I can imagine Arquette now, receiving that call from Rodriguez, thinking finally a decent role from a reputable director to get his career back on track. Then he finds himself not in Sin City 2, or the next Desperado, but in this. To be fair he acquits himself with a performance that is perfectly in keeping with the film - an absolutely awful one. Taxi for Arquette... The fact that this preposterous turkey ever got green-lit in the first place is as damning a testament to the state of contemporary Hollywood politics as you could care to find. The downfall of popular intelligent cinema has been laid at the door of many things, but giving director's carte blanche to churn out stillborn lunatic premises like this certainly doesn't help matters. Please do not waste your time and money on this atrocity. Grown adults certainly won't find anything to enjoy in its lame attempts at humour, or its smash and grab ADD style of plot development. Likewise if you are after something for the kids, you would be far wiser investing in a classier and more worthwhile slice of entertainment. Hopefully Robert Rodriguez will come to his senses and finally curb his irrational desires to try and become a part-time Walt Disney for the MTV masses. Just a thought Robert, but the next time young Racer tries to indulge you in bringing his creations to life on a cinema screen, do us all a favour and give him a clip round the ear. Here's an idea for a new script: a talented and successful film director is plagued by a split personality, the reverse of which is his arch nemesis, a talentless hack that sets about destroying his good work and undermining his reputation with a succession of awful films. You can be sure it's a better idea than this one. Now pass me some aspirin and leave me alone.
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