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Generally, it’s not a good idea to let a 7-year-old write a screenplay. Even if he’s Racer Rodriguez, son of Robert, renegade auteur and most recently director of the slick, cool, and just plain gangbusters Sin City. But when Racer started spinning tales about a creature who’s half-shark, half-boy, the elder Rodriguez decided to turn the stories into a movie: The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3D, for which father and son share the blame—er, writing credit. From the horrible 3-D to the presence of David Arquette, Sharkboy & Lavagirl answers one of its own character’s questions: “What does it mean when your train of thought wrecks?” The script has a few such semiclever metaphors, including a winding Stream of Consciousness and a tumultuous Sea of Confusion, brought to life on Sharkboy and Lavagirl’s home planet, Drool. But mostly, the 94-minute movie repeats the word “dream” approximately 10,000 times. That’s because its main character, Max (Cayden Boyd), is a dreamer, keeps a dream journal, and rather laughably gets bullied with such threats as “I’m going to burst your bubble, dream boy!” after he tells his class about his run-in with superheroes Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner) and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley). Soon the pair crash Max’s classroom—Lautner scowling like a tiny bouncer, Dooley smiling like a mental patient—and whisk him off to Drool to help them battle an evil…electricity enthusiast, Mr. Electric (George Lopez, who also plays Max’s teacher). Then a message flashes to put your paper glasses on, and things really get annoying: Nearly all color drains from the screen, and along comes the wonder of 3-D—used mostly on the Rodriguezes’ favorite move: people spitting out their food. With glasses off, you can better see that Drool is actually an imaginatively noirish amusement park—at least until the killer plugs are unleashed. As for the story itself, its message about the power of imagination is pounded home from beginning to end, sometimes more or less logically (“Everything that ever is or was began with a dream”), sometimes not (“Don’t smash people’s dreams, because you’ll smash your own as well!”). Worse, Boyd’s stiff, wussy portrayal of Max will have you siding with a bully when he follows Max’s Sharkboy story with a tale of his own: “I have a friend who’s half-dork, half-boy. I call him Dorkboy.”

—Tricia Olszewski