Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Justin Long, Jessica Biel
Directed by: Jorge Blanco (debut), Javier Abad (debut), Marcos Martinez (debut)
Written by: Joe Stillman (“Shrek”)
There’s literally been an alien invasion this year at the movies. From the entertaining extraterrestrials of “Star Trek” and “District 9” to the less than stellar offerings of the animated “Aliens in the Attic” and the thriller “The Fourth Kind,” life forms from galaxies beyond have taken over the cinema.
With the new animated film “Planet 51,” audiences are bound to go into alien overload. The excess of little green people isn’t the problem, however. Instead, it’s Oscar-nominated screenwriter Joe Stillman (“Shrek”) who doesn’t know when to let up on other sci-fi references. It makes another alien encounter feel like a worn-out welcome.
Humans and aliens trade roles in “Planet 51” when astronaut Chuck Baker (Dwayne Johnson) lands on a planet inhabited by anatomically incorrect creatures living in what is reminiscent of small-town America in the 1950s. As much as Chuck is scared of them, he is actually the one that has “invaded” their planet. With a much-anticipated movie about alien invasions about to hit theaters, the aliens go into full panic mode when they find out something from another world has made contact with them.
Desperate to get back to his abandoned spacecraft, which he parks in the middle of a suburban alien neighborhood, Chuck puts all his trust in Lem (Justin Long), a typical high school dweeb and aspiring astronomer who can never muster up enough courage to ask the alien of his dreams Neera (Jessica Biel) out on a date. Lem takes on the responsibility of getting Chuck safely back to his ship before General Grawl (Gary Oldman) and his army captures him. There’s also a mad scientist, Professor Kipple (John Cleese), who wants to dissect his brain.
While most of the slapstick humor will sit well with younger kids, “Planet 51” is far too imitative to give it a pass. Sure, it’s always fun to see a couple of really nifty movie references sprinkled into the story at just the right times, but when Stillman delivers them in droves, it’s hard to tell where his admiration for the sci-fi genre ends and unoriginality begins. From “E.T.” to “Alien” to “Star Wars,” no sci-fi film of the last 30 years is left unturned. Even a joke about the 1983 Oscar-winning film “The Right Stuff” gets overused so much, it becomes trite and obvious.
In a year where animated films are just as abundant as alien ones, “Planet 51” floats aimlessly in the cinematic solar system. It might be harmless enough for the most nonjudgmental of tikes, but everyone else will only be reminded of movies that have pushed the genre to the outer limits instead of simply rehashing the past.