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Planet 51 (2009)
Planet 51 is a 2009 English-language Spanish/British/American animated science fiction/family film directed by Jorge Blanco, written by Joe Stillman, and starring Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Gary Oldman, Seann William Scott, and John Cleese. Produced by Madrid-based Ilion Animation Studios and HandMade Films, it was acquired for U.S. distribution by New Line Cinema in November 2007. Planet 51 was released on November 20, 2009, by Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group via TriStar Pictures. It was originally titled Planet One. Produced on a budget of $70 million, Planet 51 is the most expensive movie produced in Spain. On Planet 51, green people with snail-like feelers and pointed ears live peacefully in a society reminiscent of 1950s America. In the town of Glipforg, Lem (Justin Long) is a teenage boy with a new part-time job at the local planetarium and a long-time crush on his neighbor Neera (Jessica Biel). His best friend is Skiff (Seann William Scott), a big fan of the Humaniacs films. At a barbecue Neera's family is having, Lem tries to ask Neera on a date; but her hippie friend, Glar, keeps interrupting with his protest songs.
Sadly, it seems that the three first time filmmakers in charge of this project -- Marcos Martinez, Javier Abad, and Jorge Blanco -- have studied exclusively at the Shark Tale/Shrek school of cartoon humor. Jokes revolve around the adolescent obsession with various body parts (alien or otherwise), there are dozens of plodding pop culture riffs (which seem weirdly out of place on a far off distant planet), and the main players are simplistically drawn and voiced with all the verve of a B-lister cashing a paycheck.
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars as astronaut Capt. Charles T. Baker, the kind of cleft chinned, chiseled jaw narcissist who seems to populate the cinematic version of NASA. Arriving on the title world, he discovers a surreal alien society living like it's the 1950s. Naturally, they believe Baker to be a space invader, which stirs the interest of the military, including the maniacal Gen. Grawl (Gary Oldman). Luckily, our hero is befriended by Lem (Justin Long), a typical E-Teen with dreams of landing the hot honey in town (Jessica Biel). With their help, Baker tries to avoid capture while seeking out his ship, desperate to get back to Earth.
If the story sounds overly simple, that's because it is. Oh sure, screenwriter Joe Stillman (responsible for the first two installments in the Mike Myers/gassy green ogre franchise) thinks he's offering some sly social commentary when a long haired hippy-like alien named Glar (Alan Marriot) shows up, clearly meant to hint at a growing counterculture movement on Planet 51, but that's about the extent of the satire. Instead, we get the standard slapstick, decidedly off color gags, and one cringe worthy retread of that horrid dance craze from 1995, 'The Macarena'.
Still, there's at least one redeeming element here: a quirky little pet named 'Ripley' that looks suspiciously like a miniaturized version of the beast HR Giger created for Ridley Scott's Alien. It even pees acid. After that, however, the movie plays like one long chase scene, Barker having to find a missing robot and return to his ship before he is stranded forever -- or worse, caught by Grawl and his gang. Yet we never really fear for our lead's safety, never once imagine that the otherwise stereotypical plot won't lumber along, looking for the numbers its meant to follow on the way.
While it's not as awful as last year's cosmic themed failures -Space Chimps or Fly Me to the Moon -Planet 51 is endemic of what's wrong with the computer generated genre. It's dull and lifeless, moving inertly from point to point without offering much that's memorable or amusing. Indeed, the biggest sin committed by this mediocrity is its lack of genuine fun. Not even the little asides (communities laid out like crop circles, alien audiences lining up for the latest smash hit horror film, Humaniacs III) can elevate this otherwise average effort.
With Pixar plotting a new masterwork every year and other studios trying to escape the commercial confines of the category, Planet 51 seems like a step backward. In fact, it often feels trapped in the same sanitized era it celebrates. What could have been a nifty spin on the 'stranger in a strange land' routine becomes nothing more than a humorless pile of space junk.
Please don't phone home during the feature presentation.