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Toe Thompson (Jimmy Bennett) gets up close and personal with the giant booger.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture/© 2009 Troublemaker Productions 5, L.P.

3 out of 4 stars



  • Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez
  • Starring Jon Cryer, Leslie Mann, James Spader and Jimmy Bennett
  • Classification: PG

In his bestselling book Rebel Without a Crew , Robert Rodriguez uses the story of his 1993 directing debut, El Mariachi - famously financed with $7,000 he raised from taking part in medical testing - to educate aspiring auteurs on low-budget filmmaking.

Among his tips: Make a list of cool things you have free access to - cars, houses, props, animals - and write a screenplay using those assets.

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Rodriguez now has a much longer "list." Aside from his Austin-based Troublemaker Studios, he has five offspring. And while the latter asset didn't pan out for his 2005 box-office and critical dud The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3D , it yields golden boogers in Shorts , a fun, tween ensemble thriller involving a magical wish-granting stone, technology run amok and, yes, a large animated booger (more on that monstrosity later).

Rodriguez, is a hack in the best sense of the term, often serving as producer, director, writer, shooter and composer - all of which come into play for Shorts .

With movies spanning adult and family fronts, he is also a bona fide genre auteur , skilled at conveying family values and their skewed variations.

Shorts marks a return to the smart, action-packed vibe of Rodriguez's first two Spy Kids flicks, but its story is set in a neighbourhood. Watching the film is like hanging out with an 11-year-old with too much sugar and his finger on the trigger of a remote control; grown-up viewers should be well-rested or heavily caffeinated.

Summoning the spirit of the Our Gang shorts or TheLittle Rascals , and sporting the vigour of Rodriguez's adult-genre fare, Shorts fast-forwards and rewinds through episodes that reveal the effect of a rainbow-coloured stone on the residents of Black Falls, a suburb named after Black Box Industries, a technology company that employs all of its adult residents.

Invented by Mr. Black (James Spader), the Black Box gadget is an all-purpose PDA that transforms into a toaster oven, iron and basically any device required for modern living. The film's narrator, Toe Thompson (Jimmy Bennett), warns: "I'm going to tell you the story out of order." His parents (Jon Cryer and Leslie Mann) are competing team leaders for Project X, the new and improved Black Box gadget.

The stone wreaks havoc on Toe, his parents, his friends (a tiny booger becomes a giant hungry monster when a kid wishes his father's inventions would "work like they're supposed to") and his enemies (Black's sinister daughter, Helvetica).

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With its fractured storytelling and non-preachy "be careful what you wish for" message, Shorts is this summer's hip family flick.

The giant booger from Shorts gets a photo op Friday at Toronto's CNE from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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