By Rich Cline
This hyperactive adventure may keep children giggling at the sheer chaos on screen, but it'll wear out older viewers looking for something that actually holds the attention.
Toe Thompson (Bennett) is a lonely kid in school, picked on relentlessly by the school bully Helvetica (Vanier) and her big brother Cole (Gearhart). They're the children of Mr Black (Spader), owner of the monolithic company that employs everyone in town, including Toe's parents (Cryer and Mann). Then Toe finds a mysterious rainbow-coloured rock that has the ability to grant wishes. After passing through the hands of his schoolmates Loogie and Nose (Gagnon and Short), the town is awash in walking crocodiles and giant boogers. And Helvetica is about to get her hands on it.
Toe narrates the story out of sequence as a series of episodes, although the only purpose for this fractured narrative seems to be to inject some interest in the thin plot. Essentially this film feels like the pilot for a Saturday morning TV series, with its cheesy effects and cartoonish characters, none of whom generate any real sympathy. Youngsters might enjoy the youthful antics on screen, including some teen stuff with Toe's big sister (Dennings). But the adults are kid's-eye stereotypes, from Toe's disconnected parents to the dismissive Mr Black and Nose's germ-phobic dad (Macy).
Yes, it's colourful and thoroughly wacky, with nonstop energy, deliriously silly antics in every scene and some nice subtext in the various inter-relationships. All of the usual messages are in here (be yourself/listen to others), plus of course a warning to be careful what you wish for. But everything is flying at the screen so thick and fast that nothing sticks. All of the actors are engulfed in effects that include animals, aliens and the summer's fifth giant robot (after Terminator 4, Transformers 2, G-Force and District 9).
Rodriguez clearly enjoys making these lively kiddie romps, but this film doesn't come close to the resonance or invention of the Sky Kids movies. It does have some hilariously absurd moments, a great cast and a relentless sense of action mayhem. But we feel utterly worn out long before the credits role, and we're not left with much to take home with us.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 21st August 2009
Box Office Worldwide: $25.7M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 45%
Fresh: 45 Rotten: 56
Cast & Crew
Starring: Jimmy Bennett as Teo Thompon, Kat Dennings as Stacy Thompson, Jolie Vanier as Helvetica Black, William H. Macy as Dr. Noseworthy, James Spader as Mr. Black, Jon Cryer as Dad Thompsan, Jake Short as Nose Noseworthy, Trevor Gagnon as Loogie, Devon Gearhart as Cole Black, Rebel Rodriguez as Lug, Leo Howard as Laser, Racer Rodriguez as Bully #1, Rocket Rodriguez as Bully #2, John Chilleri as Hallway Kid (uncredited), Josh Christman as Classroom Kid (uncredited), Joshua Drew as Classmate (uncredited), Zach Irsik as Schoolyard Kid (uncredited), Ryan Lee as Classmate / Neighborhood Kid (uncredited), Christina Lehner as Classmate (uncredited), James Leonardo Mayberry as Schoolyard Kid (uncredited), Micaela Phillips as Girl on Bus (uncredited), Bella Perryman as Classmate (uncredited), Cambell Westmoreland as Blinker #1, Zoe Webb as Blinker #2, Cameron R. Murphy as Neighborhood Kid, Henry J. Smith 3rd as Neighborhood Kid (uncredited), Cameron Wofford as (uncredited), Alexis Woods as Schoolyard Kid (uncredited), Leslie Mann as Mom Thompson