LOS ANGELES – Robert Rodriguez is back in a family way.
Opening Friday, his kid-friendly comedy “Shorts” is the latest in a seesaw career in which Rodriguez veers from family fare such as the “Spy Kids” flicks to violent thrillers such as “Sin City” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico.”
A collection of “Little Rascals”-inspired adventures with a loosely linked plot, the PG-rated “Shorts” has some mildly crude humour, including a giant monster created out of a stray booger a boy picks from his nose.
But it’s a complete turnabout from Rodriguez’s previous flick, 2007’s “Planet Terror,” his violent, gory zombie fest that featured an amputee with a machine-gun for a leg.
As he switches back and forth from family films to bloody adult action, one genre reinvigorates the other for him, Rodriguez, 41, said in an interview.
“By splitting it up, it’s that palate-cleansing, where you can almost feel like if your head was too close to a project, I just needed to turn to the other one and edit that just for a day,” Rodriguez said. “When I came back to the original movie, it’s like I’d been away for months, because you’ve just done a complete mind-switch.”
“So it gave you a fresher perspective and much more distance.”
Rodriguez recalled shooting “Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over” while he was editing “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” with both movies hitting theatres within a couple of months.
Likewise, he was editing “Sin City” while shooting the family tale “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D,” the two overlapping to the point where he had the prostitutes of the former and the child heroes of the latter in front of the cameras the same day.
“There were literally some days where we’d be like, OK, we still have to shoot some pickup shots from ‘Sin City,’ so we’d shoot the kids for half the day, send them away, and in come the ‘Sin City’ girls in their robes,” Rodriguez said.
A do-it-yourselfer since boyhood, when he began making short films starring his siblings around their Texas home, Rodriguez did his usual multitasking on “Shorts,” writing, directing, producing, editing, writing the music and serving as his own cinematographer.
Four of Rodriguez’s five children appear in “Shorts,” including 10-year-old son Rebel, who came up with the movie’s basic idea when he suggested his father do something along the lines of “The Little Rascals” short comedies.
“Most of his ideas are based on his kids, and a lot of his kids are in the movies, too,” said 11-year-old “Shorts” co-star Jolie Vanier. “I’ve seen all his kid films, and I’m a huge fan.”
A batch of cinematic short stories was “perfect for this day and age. Short attention spans,” Rodriguez said. “Let’s make a bunch of cool ‘Little Rascal’-type short films and just make it into a feature. Maybe they’ll be tied together by just the fact that some actors, like Spanky, will be the lead in one, and he’ll show up as a supporting character in another one.”
The result is a collection of tales set in a neighbourhood where adults and children cope with the disastrous results after a magic rock lands in their midst, making people’s wildest fantasies come true.
Along with the booger monster, the rock sets loose savage bipedal crocodiles, giant robots, tiny aliens and other creatures causing mayhem.
The cast includes William H. Macy, James Spader, Leslie Mann, Jon Cryer and Kat Dennings.
Most of the action centres on the community’s kids. The boyish Rodriguez has great flair for capturing the antics of children, said 13-year-old “Shorts” star Jimmy Bennett.
“He’s just a big kid, and he just seems like the rest of us. It seems like he could almost be in our group,” Bennett said of Rodriguez’s relationship with his young actors.
Rodriguez has shifted back to adult action for the movie he’s shooting now, the revenge saga “Machete,” a feature-length spinoff of a fake movie trailer that ran in “Grindhouse.” The cast includes Robert De Niro and Jessica Alba.
Steering from family adventures to violent thrillers and back again reflects Rodriguez’s own personal tastes as a film fan.
“I do like all kinds of movies,” Rodriguez said. “I wouldn’t make all kinds of movies. I don’t know if I would ever make a straight, serious drama. I like watching those, but they wouldn’t be that much fun to make. I like really making things where you have to piece them together and layer things and mix genres. More like giant magic tricks, illusion, rather than just documenting a reality.”
“Other than that, though, I think any sort of genre is game. The ‘Grindhouse’ movie was just sort of my screwball romantic comedy. I just added zombies.”