"Planet 51" flips usual alien invader storyline, but kids laugh at slapstick from any galaxy
An astronaut (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) lands on a distant planet. Just as he plants the American flag, he discovers that there's already intelligent life there -- and the denizens of Planet 51 regard HIM as the frightening alien. The reverse-engineered paranoia makes for plenty of warped comedy.
To Capt. Charles "Chuck" Baker's surprise, this strange new world is weirdly reminiscent of a cheerfully innocent '50s America. There are tailfins on the flying cars. Long hair on boys is considered weird. And everyone's obsessed with scary movies about mind-melting aliens from outer space.So when word gets out that a real alien has landed in the white-picket-fence town of Glipforg, the army shows up to capture it, led by a tough general ( Gary Oldman doing a letter-perfect Robert Stack) imitation. It's up to teenage planetarium employee Lem ( Justin Long) to help the astronaut get back home -- and along the way, figure out how to win the girl of his dreams ( Jessica Biel) and dodge the general and a crazy professor voiced by John Cleese.
The movie is the first project from a new combatant in the Pixar-versus-Dreamworks animation wars, Madrid-based Ilion Animation Studios. While those big studios have moved into making 3-D movies like "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," this flick gets some of its texture by littering the script with references to older films. Adults will sit there thinking: Hey, there's an "E.T" spoof! Hey, there's a shout-out to "Terminator"! Hey, there's a reference to "Star Wars" -- and another! And another!
By far the funniest character in the film is "Rover," the astronaut's rock-collecting robot, which behaves like a cross between Wall-E and Lassie. Rover's riff on "Singin' in the Rain" may be the movie's greatest gag.
Kids are likely to enjoy the slapstick and the mild potty humor. Adults may just enjoy seeing a flick that -- unlike more derivative children's fare like "Astro Boy" -- takes a stock situation and flips it 180 degrees.
Make sure you stay through the credits, by the way, to see one of the bad guys get a delayed, but well-deserved, comeuppance.
-- Sherry Robinson