Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Review: "Planet 51"
As animated films go, "Planet 51" is like the food purchased at the theater concession stand: Empty calories, consumed by people barely aware of what they're stuffing in their faces, and soon forgotten.
The set-up is a comedic take on the old alien invasion theme, but with the little green men as the natives and humans as the evil invaders. It's a neat twist ... except it was already done earlier this year in "Battle for Terra," a superior animated flick that few people saw.
"Planet 51" has some nice ideas, but it never really escapes orbit. The humor is aimed at very small children, who may enjoy the slapstick physical comedy and goofy critters. If you count your age in double digits, though, you're apt to find it quite tedious at times.
The in-joke is that the aliens of the town of Glipforg are stuck in the equivalent of our 1950s, with ducktail hairdos, rock 'n' roll and plenty of paranoia about an invasion from beyond the stars. The most popular film franchise is the "Humaniacs," which features creatures with a single giant eye turning people into mindless zombies.
Of course, there are a few differences from Earth. The denizens have antennae and frond-like things for hair, no noses, four fingers, and an aversion to pants and shoes. They've got hovercraft instead of cars -- although they resemble '50s Chevys and Cadillacs -- and instead of dogs they've got little domesticated pets that look like the creatures from the "Alien" movies. One, joke-ily named Ripley, pees acid.
The hero is Lem (voiced by Justin Long), a teen with things starting to go his way: He just landed a job at the astronomy observatory, and summoned up the courage to ask out the girl of his dreams, Nera (Jessica Biel). His life gets thrown into turmoil when an American astronaut lands a spacecraft in his backyard, setting off a flurry of panic.
Turns out the spaceman is Charles T. Baker (Dwayne Johnson), a solitary explorer who thought the planet was uninhabited, "not full of giant sea monkeys dancing to the oldies," as he puts it.
Lem lends Charles a hand, which brings about the ire of the army general (Gary Oldman) determined to do the invader in before he melts their tanks or whatever.
Rounding out the cast are Seann William Scott as Lem's nerdy best friend, Alan Marriott as a proto-hippie who wants to give peace a chance, and John Cleese as the head scientist whose prescription for every problem is a brain-ectomy.
Directed by Jorge Blanco from a script by Joe Stillman, "Planet 51" has pretty impressive animation considering it didn't come out of either of the 'toon powerhouses, Disney and DreamWorks. Too bad these good looks are wasted on such a dull and derivative movie.