Planet 51

Cast:
Dwayne Johnson as Captain Charles T. Baker (voice)
Jessica Biel as Neera (voice)
Justin Long as Lem (voice)
Gary Oldman as General Grawl (voice)
Seann William Scott as Skiff (voice)
John Cleese as Professor Kipple (voice)
Freddie Benedict as Eckle (voice)
Alan Marriott as Glar (voice)
Mathew Horne as Soldier Vesklin (voice)
James Corden as Soldier Vernkot (voice)

Summary:
“Planet 51″ has a fun concept, but the execution is a bit bland. Kids will enjoy it, but adults will probably only be mildly entertained.

Story:
Lem’s life is going pretty well. He is about to get a promotion at the local observatory, he has a good friend that works at a comic book store, he has a loving family, and he’s about to ask out his neighbor Neera on a date for the first time. But everything is turned upside-down when an alien spaceship lands in his backyard. As the alien goes on the run from the military, Lem not only discovers that it is not hostile, but he’s it’s only hope for getting back home.

The twist? The alien is NASA astronaut Captain Charles T. Baker and Lem is a little green man from a planet far, far away.

“Planet 51″ is rated PG for mild sci-fi action and some suggestive humor.

What Worked:
I have to give credit to the creators that “Planet 51″ is a fun concept. Taking the traditional alien movie and turning it around so that the human is the alien is something that hasn’t been done much before and it opens up a lot of comedy potential. Seeing a NASA astronaut running through an alien town in a panic generates a lot of laughs. It also puts the audience in the shoes of the alien as we see the locals unjustifiably overreact, panic, and eventually attack. It gives a new perspective on a genre that has been done many, many times.

Along the way they do a lot of the movie parodies that you would expect. There are several “E.T.” jokes, “Star Wars” jokes, and more. And as you’ve seen in the ads, the dogs are actually Giger Aliens that pee acid. If you’re a fan of sci-fi movies, there’s something in here that will make you chuckle. Adults will also catch jokes about everything from “Singing in the Rain” to Area 51.

One of the breakout characters of the movie is a robotic rover named… Rover. It acts like a dog and is on an unending quest to collect rocks (ala Scrat and acorns in “Ice Age”). What’s amusing is he’s so focused on the rocks that he ignores the alien life around him. He races around like a puppy and usually steals whatever scene he’s in. When he’s paired with the alien dog, it’s one of the funniest moments in the movie.

What Didn’t Work:
Unfortunately, as fun as the concept is, it’s quite predictable. You can guess literally every beat of every act. You can probably also correctly predict how it ends without having seen a second of the film. It doesn’t help that there are very, very few laugh out loud moments in the movie. It’s mainly ‘smirk inducing,’ if you follow what I mean.

I think one big mistake the creators made was making the alien planet simply an alien version of an American 50′s era small town. The aliens have cars, TV’s, comic book stores, normal clothes, etc. all just like humans, but with a slightly alien twist. It’s kind of like Bedrock in “The Flinstones” where everything is familiar, but made with stones or dinosaurs. I think they missed a golden opportunity to do something truly alien and outrageous that would have been more visually appealing. The movie also loses steam as soon as Baker takes his helmet off and starts speaking English with Lem. I think it would have been a lot more interesting if he popped his helmet off and simply started babbling unintelligibly, thus leaving Lem to try and interpret what the heck he was saying. It might have been funnier, but they wouldn’t have had Dwayne Johnson as a star.

I really love all these voice actors. Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long, and Gary Oldman are all actors I enjoy watching. But they didn’t bring anything particularly unique to their characters with their voice performances. You could have pretty much put any actor in those roles and it wouldn’t have made much difference. The only exception is John Cleese as Professor Kipple. He’s the only one with a voice that really stands out in the animation.

The CG animation itself is a tad bland, too. The alien designs aren’t really unique. They’re green blobs. There are a couple of amusing visual gags in the background of the comic book store (some familiar looking comic covers) and the observatory (a map that shows ‘Beer Island’), but otherwise it’s nothing special. This is a movie that might have benefited from the 3-D treatment to spice things up.

I’ll also mention that a couple of the jokes were a tad ‘ick’. Skiff repeatedly offers Lem a cork to plug his butt in case the aliens try to anally probe him. Skiff also offers him a used one. So… ew. I guess that’s the ‘suggestive humor’ the rating warns about.

The Bottom Line:
If you need to kill some time with some kids over the Thanksgiving holiday, “Planet 51″ is worth checking out. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either.

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