In-Flight Entertainment

By Jason Lee

February 1, 2010

The Nintendo Wii just keeps getting better.

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Stale pretzels and lukewarm sodas aside, in-flight movies provide a great opportunity for you to catch up on some of films that you didn't get to see while they were in theaters. Besides, what else are you going to do during your flight? Stare at the seat in front of you?

In-Flight Entertainment brings you the movies now playing at a cruising altitude of 45,000 miles in the air. So put your tray table up, buckle your safety belt, and let's go.

Now Playing on Eastbound American Airline flights in January: Shorts

Robert Rodriguez is an interesting director. His films typically exhibit an engaging visual and a creatively-imagined world, but can get weighed down by schlocky kid humor that brings the movie to a screeching halt for anyone over the age of 14. If Tim Burton had less talent, was less mature, liked action sequences a little bit more, and were more focused on producing kid-friendly films, you might end up with someone similar to Rodriguez.

Not that his films are always bad. They're just sometimes bad. His 2001 film Spy Kids got some decidedly glowing reviews (check out Roger Ebert's review for example) and the sequel wasn't horrible. The third one was. But then Sin City wasn't. But The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl was.

So now we have Shorts, which based on the trailer and commercials I saw, looked to skew towards the eight- to nine-year-old range. The film's young protagonist is Toby "Toe" Thompson, a brace-face nerd who endures daily torture from two schoolyard bullies, Helvetica "Hel" Black and her brother Cole. Their father runs Black Box Inc., a company that employs almost everyone in their town of Black Falls and manufactures "Black Boxes," rectangular gizmos that can transform to into almost any device to perform most any function. When your dad controls the employment or unemployment of almost everyone in a city, you pretty much hold sway over the entire school.


CEO of Black Box Inc., Carbon Black, is obsessed with developing the next generation of the Black Box, hoping to squash his competitors and bolster his profits. When a mysterious rainbow-hued rock, nicknamed the Wishing Rock by the kids in town, falls into Toby's hands, it becomes all too clear that the rock is either the solution to Black Box Inc.'s problem, or the key to its demise.

But before Carbon Black can get his hands on the rock, it must pass from random kid character to random kid character, with each person unknowingly using the Wishing Rock to cause mischief and mayhem. The results are rarely humorous, but then again, I'm not eight-years-old and I don't find giant booger monsters all that entertaining.

While younger audiences might happily chuckle at the scenes with crocodile soldiers, giant dung beetles and a telepathic baby, Rodriguez tries to incorporate some pointed societal critiques in the movie for his older viewers. The inclusion of the Black Box device in the movie is an obvious allusion to our obsession with smart phones, and the sequence of four family members sitting at the dinner table texting / web surfing on their Black Boxes in seeming isolation from the people around them made me laugh out loud. Rodriguez also takes aim at our "Blackberry culture," with Toby's parents tethered to their jobs at all times, both at home as well as at work, due to their boss' ability to reach them on their Black Boxes at any time.

Unfortunately, the visual creativity of the film and its cultural barbs fall away in the second half of the film, as the plot disintegrates into a wild goose chase in which all of the characters struggle for possession of the Wishing Rock. The ending action sequence is implausible given the goals of the combatants, and the resolution of the plot is incredibly unsatisfying. The promise of the first half of the film is in no way realized in the second half and made me wish I'd devoted the last hour of the film to trying to finish The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks on my DS.

I might suggest that you do the same.

Rating: 1 ½ stars.



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