Writer-director-cameraman-editor-composer Robert Rodriguez is possessed of a creative spirit as restless as his filmmaking approach, one that reflects the compulsive energy of either an inveterate multi-tasker or a full-on control freak. Rodriguez is always up to something, and usually something interesting, whether his lean, mean "El Mariachi" trilogy or his surprisingly warm "Spy Kids" family films. Why, it seems like just yesterday that Rodriguez was dazzling audiences with his dark, stylized vision in "Sin City."
Okay, it was 10 weeks ago. But still, you get the picture: This is a guy who clearly can't sit still, even when all indications are that he could use a break. "The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3D" is just such a warning, a movie that fails on nearly every level. Visually undistinguished, narratively inert, populated by a cast of charmless child actors, "Sharkboy and Lavagirl," with any luck will fade quickly from theaters, memories and Rodriguez's own Things to Do Today list.
The story of 10-year-old Max (Cayden Boyd), a chronic daydreamer who uses his fantasy life to escape the fights of his parents (the mismatched David Arquette and Kristin Davis), "Sharkboy and Lavagirl" posits a series of strange events whereby Max is visited by the title duo, two of his most vivid imaginary creations played by Taylor Lautner and Taylor Dooley, respectively. (We seem to have reached a tipping point at which the young leading lady and leading man in a movie have the same first name, but did it have to be Taylor?) Sharkboy, who has sharp teeth, fins and, for some reason, claws, and Lavagirl, whose neon-lavender hair suggest incendiary superpowers, need Max to help them save Planet Drool, whose murky environs are being ruled by the malevolent Mr. Electric (George Lopez).
As with the third and least appealing "Spy Kids" movie, "Sharkboy and Lavagirl" has been filmed in 3-D, which reduces the visuals to muddy, colorless blobs. It also adds nothing to the story, which Rodriguez co-wrote with his then 7-year-old son, Racer. The moral of this story is that 7-year-olds shouldn't write movies. "Sharkboy and Lavagirl" too often resembles the meandering, discursive narrative style of a second-grader, the cinematic equivalent of "and then . . . " To make matters more unbearable, the movie is peppered with didactic verbal billboards, such as when Max is urged by one of his super friends to "dream a better dream, an unselfish dream." (Where's the fun in that?) What passes for dialogue is a series of epigrams that relentlessly extol the virtues of unbridled creativity. The tone finally becomes so hectoring that what was supposed to be a flight of fancy begins to resemble the stern lecture of just the kind of authority figure Rodriguez pretends to be flouting.
You know a kids' movie is in trouble when a place called The Land of Milk and Cookies looks like a soggy slough, if not of despond, then ennui. The bad news is that "Sharkboy and Lavagirl" is one of Rodriguez's genuinely forgettable outings. The good news is that, especially where this gifted filmmaker is concerned, there's always next time.
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D (94 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for mild action and some rude humor.