[Screen It]

(2005) (Cayden Boyd, Taylor Dooley) (PG)

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Action/Adventure: A boy is transported to another world where he and his young superhero friends must defeat a villain who's determined to rid the planet of all dreams.
Things could be better for Max (CAYDEN BOYD), an imaginative fourth grader. Not only are his parents (DAVID ARQUETTE AND KRISTIN DAVIS) always fighting and his teacher, Mr. Electricidad (GEORGE LOPEZ), complaining that he spends too much of his time dreaming, but the class bully Linus (JACOB DAVICH) has just stolen and defiled his dream journal.

That's where he keeps notes about various characters such as Sharkboy -- a kid raised by sharks -- and Lavagirl -- who can control her namesake material and wield it as a weapon -- who he believes are real but only get him grief from Linus and the other kids. Everyone else, however, becomes believers when a tornado strikes the school and Sharkboy (TAYLOR LAUTNER) and Lavagirl (TAYLOR DOOLEY) suddenly show up, stating they need Max to return with them to Planet Drool.

It seems that villain Mr. Electric (GEORGE LOPEZ) and his sidekick Minus (JACOB DAVICH) have set out to gain control of the cerebral planet by destroying all dreams, including Sharkboy and Lavagirl. From that point on, Max rediscovers his forgotten and discarded dreams as he joins forces with his two new friends in battling Mr. Electric and his minions to save Planet Drool.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
While I'm sure none of you parents out there have ever done this, you probably know of those who are so proud of something their kids have accomplished that they have to share it with the rest of the world, or at least those who step into their homes. Although on rare occasions the offspring's output is actually worth seeing, hearing or reading, most of the time it's near or completely unbearable, with the parents love for their child and his or her accomplishment blinding them regarding any such artistic merits and whether they should be shared with others.

Such appears to be the case with "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D," a mouthful of a title brought to the big screen by director Robert Rodriguez of "Spy Kids" fame. You see, according to the press kit, the film was penned by the director's 7-year-old son, Racer Rodriguez, based on stories he had been concocting for years.

Of course, kids make up flight of fancy stories all of the time, but most don't have a famous director dad who can turn them into reality on the big screen. Yet, there's a reason you don't see many elementary school aged kids in the writers guild and that's because they haven't developed any sort of writing skills. The proof of that is up there on the screen for everyone to see (or not) with this release.

And there's more of it to see since the film -- like Rodriguez's last entry in the "Spy Kids" series -- is presented in 3-D. Unfortunately, and as was the case with "Game Over," the on-again, off-again effects seem to be present to mask the lack of a good story beneath them. To make matters worse, such effects (that require those awful red and blue lensed plastic glasses that make you feel like you have a cataract on one eye -- compared to the newer polarized ones that just feel like regular 'shades) are just as disappointing as the overall film.

It isn't comfortable knocking the efforts of a 7-year-old kid -- and who's to say how much he wrote with the assistance of his dad and/or others -- but whoever penned this drivel obviously watched "The Wizard of Oz" a few too many times before sitting down and tapping out the script on the computer. Some might call it homage, while offers will likely cite some degree of plagiarism, but the similarities are too striking to ignore.

A put upon kid -- with the aid of a handy tornado -- ends up in a magical, mystical and even scary at times dream world filled with fantastical characters and imagery and the need to set things right. Throw in characters who suspiciously look like their counterparts in the real world, accomplices in search of their own fulfillment and a behavior that -- when repeated three times -- sends the "dreamer" back home to reality, and you have a contemporary take on the old Oz story structure.

All of which could have been fine if the story and characters were engaging or at least interesting, but sadly that's not the case. For a film that's all about dreams (and that contains more than its share of related bits of dialogue about following one's dreams), this one shows little imagination. Sure, there's the creative production design, costumes, and those 3-D effects, but I'm talking about the story. Or lack thereof.

The basic plot is that the kid ends up on a planet where the villain -- George Lopez ("Real Women Have Curves," TV's "George Lopez" show) in maniacal overdrive mode -- wants to wipe out all of the dreams and thus keeps the kids there awake all of the time on nonstop roller coaster rides. With the aide of the titular characters -- that are really just lame substitutes for Carmen and Juni from the "Spy Kids" films -- our young hero sets out to save the day. A more seasoned and imaginative writer might have had him use all of his previously discarded or forgotten dreams to his advantage, but beyond one half-hearted attempt at that, we're just left with a hodgepodge of juvi action moments and travels over cerebral landscapes that simply end up being rather boring.

It seems that Rodriguez and company were more interested in brainstorming the potential 3-D effects and what they could send at the viewer thanks to those glasses. While they offer plenty of said material, the effects simply aren't that much fun. And when compared to 3-D flicks of old where thing "really" did come way out of the screen and just over the viewer's head in front of you, here they're far more subdued. Most effective is the look of depth backwards into the screen, but the pop-out effects just didn't do much for me (and that's about all I had to look forward to once I realized the plot wasn't going to do it for me or others).

Performances are mediocre to weak, even for a film aimed at kids. Cayden Boyd ("Dodgeball," "Mystic River") is flat as the protagonist, while Taylor Lautner ("Shadow Fury") and Taylor Dooley (making her debut) come off like watered-down versions of Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega in the "Spy Kids" series (with the latter even physically looking and acting like Vega). Jacob Davich ("The Aviator") is unremarkable as the school bully (and villain in the dream world), while David Arquette ("Eight Legged Freaks," "See Spot Run") and Kristin Davis (HBO's "Sex and the City") are inexplicably cast as the protagonist's parents who are present just to bicker at the beginning so that they can make amends at the end.

While rare nowadays, 3-D films at least have the advantage of falling back on their dimensional look should something go horrendously wrong with the rest of the picture. Alas, that doesn't even hold up with this flat, boring and less than involving kids flick that proves that Rodriguez might be better off sticking with the adult fare and leaving the kiddie stuff to others who don't indulge their kids' home movies. "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D" rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed May 25, 2005 / Posted June 10, 2005

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