Robert Rodriguez has repeatedly proven himself as a filmmaker of infinite resourcefulness, serving as director, writer, cinematographer, editor, visual effects supervisor and sometimes even composing the score.
But with his latest movie, “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D,” he confirms what he cannot do: come up with a single original idea.
He’s incredibly adept at paying faithful homage to specific genres: the Western (the “El Mariachi” movies), the action-spy flick (the “Spy Kids” trilogy), and film noir (“Sin City,” his most visually striking film yet). He just doesn’t appear to have anything of his own to say.
This time, it almost feels like Rodriguez is cannibalizing himself. Sharkboy and Lavagirl could be the cousins of Juni and Carmen Cortez from the “Spy Kids” movies. Even the posters look alike and the tag lines are similar: “Real spies ... only smaller,” for the first “Spy Kids,” compared with “Smaller heroes. Just as super.”
But “Sharkboy and Lavagirl” reportedly sprang from the mind of 7-year-old Racer Max Rodriguez, the director’s son, who is credited with having written the script after imagining and drawing these characters and sharing them with his dad.
No offense to the kid, and not to squelch his enthusiasm, but it shows. The story is incoherent and painfully repetitive — the word “dream” is uttered so many times, it could be a drinking game — and in his father’s hands, the movie has the chintzy look of one of those Saturday afternoon sci-fi flicks. (Ed Wood would be proud — or perhaps feel threatened, depending on whether he was Glen or Glenda that day.)
One can only assume that Rodriguez intended the effects to look cheap to give the film a certain low-budget charm, not unlike “El Mariachi,” which he famously made for $7,000, and which “Sharkboy and Lavagirl” resembles during some of the moments that aren’t in 3-D.
The segments that do rely on three-dimensional effects — for which moviegoers receive glasses to put on at various times — aren’t exactly aesthetically gripping, either. They actually look worse than those of the headache-inducing “Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over.”
Characters throw up and the chunks fly out from the screen. Giant, menacing electrical plugs lunge forward, and a couple of sharks’ fins seem to pop up as they swim by. All the 3-D scenes have a joyless, grayish tint about them, though, which keeps the audience at arm’s length.
Pity, since our young hero, Max (Cayden Boyd), is supposedly so colorfully imaginative that his daydreams get him in trouble at school with Mr. Electricidad (George Lopez), the teacher who discourages his creativity, and Linus (Jacob Davich), the bully who torments him.
All his fantasies serve as an escape from his home life, where his parents (David Arquette and Kristin Davis, both strangely stiff) don’t get along.
Max writes in his dream journal about Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner), a boy who was raised underwater by sharks and has fins (hence the name), and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley), who has hot-pink hair and shoots flames from her hands. They live on the Planet Drool, where kids ride the Train of Thought to the Land of Milk and Cookies (small children will like this part, actually) and where there are literal brain storms — as in brains falling from the sky.
But Planet Drool is under the tyrannical reign of Mr. Electric (Lopez again) and Minus (Davich again), so Sharkboy and Lavagirl recruit Max to help them ... do something. Fight the oncoming darkness, maybe? It’s hard to tell. Whatever this threat is, Max needs to prevent it by dreaming, something the wholesome, earnest boy is goaded into doing ad nauseam.
“The dream! Remember the dream!” Lavagirl urges. Variations on this theme include “Learn to dream with your eyes open” and “Dream a better dream.”
That’s a bit of advice Rodriguez should follow, too.