Jack-of-all-filmmaking-trades Robert Rodriguez deserves a Father of the Year award for involving his entire family in this adventure, but the well of family-friendly creativity that produced SPY KIDS (2001) appears to have run dry. Ten-year-old Max (Cayden Boyd) is beleaguered on all fronts: School bully Linus (Jacob Davich) torments him on a regular basis and his teacher, Mr. Electricidad (George Lopez), says he needs to stop dreaming and focus on the real world, while at home his parents (David Arquette, Kristin Davis) bicker constantly. But Max is happiest when he's daydreaming about imaginary hero Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner), who was raised by sharks after being separated from his father, and the quiet, mysterious Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley), who has flaming purple hair and molten-magma skin. Then Linus steals Max's precious dream journal, and the trouble begins: Linus damages the pages and Max's fantasy world begins to succumb to the darkness. Sharkboy and Lavagirl come to Earth and beg Max to visit his handiwork, Planet Drool, and restore order by re-creating his imaginings. But he must fight off Minus (also Davich), who has evil plans for the planet, and Mr. Electric (Lopez) an out-of-control, highly charged force who maniacally attempts to keep the Drool dwellers from ever sleeping. When Sharkboy and Lavagirl's help proves insufficient, Max is forced to enlist the mythical Ice Princess (Sasha Pieterse), who lives deep within a frozen lair that she can never leave. She alone has a valuable gem that might help them delay the inevitable. The story's debt to THE NEVERENDING STORY (1984) is striking, and while no one would want to advocate stifling children's dreams and creativity, translating the inventions of a preteen Rodriguez's 7-year-old-son, Racer Max into a feature-length adventure without the help of a strong screenwriter was ill advised. The concept is cute and the movie starts out well, but it devolves into a muddled, overstuffed mess that wears out its welcome around the time the novelty of 3-D effects wears off. Some younger children may be entertained by the playful nature of Rodriguez's 3-D visuals, but Racer's characters end up seeming a more than a little two-dimensional in this three-dimensional world.
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