After seeing THE ADVENTURES OF SHARK BOY AND LAVA GIRL IN 3-D, the only conclusion to be drawn is that its maker, Robert Rodriguez, got lucky with his first foray into the land of kid films. That would be SPY KIDS, a perfectly splendid blend of fantasy elements and genuine family values. The subsequent installments progressively removed the luster that film originally inspired to the point that even Rodriguez gave up after the muck and mire that was SPY KIDS 3-D: GAME OVER. I recall that film, and without any pleasure I might add, because while Rodriguez has left that franchise behind, he has not, apparently, lost his fascination for 3-D. There is much more of it in ADVENTURES than in GAME OVER, but it’s a gimmick that only adds to the general irritation inspired by the film, what with all the fumbling with the elastic that secures the 3-D glasses and, of, course, the way the slide around in one’s lap between prompts to put them back on. Worse is that when one does put them on, there turns out to have been so little reason to do so in the first place.
The title characters, he (Taylor Lautner) was raised by sharks and grew to look like them a bit, and she (Taylor Dooley) is made of molten rock with purple fire for her hair, are the invention of Max (Cayden Boyd). He’s a slight and tow-headed little boy given to big daydreams to escape the school bully that has singled him out, and from the constant fighting at home as Max’s mother (Kristen Davis) constantly nags his dad (David Arquette) to get his head out of the clouds and get a real job. So intense does Max’s daydreaming become, in direct proportion to the intensity of his real-world issues, that the duo comes to life with more than just a visit in mind. They need him to help them fight a menace on Lava Girl’s home planet of Drool, where the evil Mr. Electricity (George Lopez, who also plays Max’s teacher, Mr. Electricidad) is taking over what should be a kid’s paradise and turning it into a nightmare.
Rodriguez, who wrote the script based on the stories of his then seven-year-old son, Racer, (who gets a screen credit), gives free reign to his imagination for the planet of Drool. The Stream of Consciousness flows through the land of milk and giant cookies. The Train of Thought, which is sometimes hard to keep on its tracks, runs through a forest of brains rooted by their spinal columns. The best visual, is Mr. Electricity, a mechanical sphere supported by streams of energy that end in feet and claws with a tight close-up of Lopez’s face peering out. If only this were enough.
For a fantasy to take hold, it must have an unimpeachable internal logic. This one doesn’t. Lava Girl, for the worst offender, leaves burn marks instead of footprints, but while she chars a marshmallow that she tries to use as a pillow, the rest of the cookie on which she reclines remains unscorched. Elaborate sets and pedestrian dialogue are the order of the day. Alas, the dialogue drags down whatever cleverness the art direction should have had with such excrescences as the trio leaping into the banana split boat that Max has just dreamed up as Shark Boy yells’ “Let’s split.” The moral of the story about dreams being important is hammered home so relentlessly that you want to go out and do the opposite out of sheer exasperation. That everyone seems to be performing in a school pageant rather than a studio film only exacerbates the problem. There is also Lava Girl’s palpable discomfort with her suit, which seems to be both chafing and binding.
And what should one make of the three female archetypes depicted? There is the hot head, actually called such in the film, (Lava Girl) ice princess (the fantasy alter ego of the classmate with a crush on Max), and the scold (Max’s mother). Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes it’s not.
THE ADVENTURES OF SHARK BOY AND LAVA GIRL will, one fervently hopes, put an end to Robert Rodriguez’s foray in children’s films. It’s the least it can do after inflicting itself on the public.