The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3D inspired hatred in most of the critics surrounding me, but in me, it inspired something much worse: apathy. In a market glutted with special-effects laden adventure cinema, the style of Robert Rodriguez's fourth kiddie adventure already looks old hat, and he's slid a long way down from the charm of 2001's Spy Kids.
Nepotism aside, perhaps he shouldn't have greenlit his then-seven-year-old son's story idea about a bullied Everyboy named Max (Cayden Boyd) and the titular sketchy kid superheroes (Taylor Lautner an Taylor Dooley, respectively), who defend dreams from the destructive designs of the evil Mr. Electric and his boy sidekick Minus. The bad guys rule Planet Drool and, as in that other movie about illusion versus reality, they bear a striking resemblance to folks back home: Max's feckless teacher Mr. Electricidad (sitcom star George Lopez) and a bully named Linus (Jacob Davich).
Rodriguez begins the film with a ponderous epigraph ("Everything that is or was began with a dream"—Lava Girl) and quickly moves on to pandering. Essentially, what we have here is a video game in search of a script, with the characters passing levels to reach an ultimate showdown. The characters are awfully stock, though Rodriguez brushes with existential examination when Lava Girl laments to Max, "Everything I touch I destroy. Why'd you make me like that?"
Mostly Rodriguez just uses the word "dream" as much as possible and hopes something will spontaneously come out as profound. The leadfooted teacher insists, "Dreaming keeps you from seeing what's right here in front of you," in contrast to the heroic advice "Learn to dream with your eyes open...you'll be able to make anything happen." Like a movie that's borderline incoherent, with tasteless CGI effects and peppy jokes about blowing chunks.
The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3D makes for a pretty bizarre bookend to the director's R-rated Sin City. Rodriguez's resistance to casting only WASPy, Disney Channel-ready kids remains admirable, but sadly none of these perfomers score top marks. With the injury of 3D eyestrain added to the insult of garish production design that makes the movie look like a 94—minute Saturday-morning commercial for Marshmallow Toast Crunch, it's safe to say you and the kids can skip this one and line up for the authentically dreamy Howl's Moving Castle.