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'Monsters vs. Aliens' brilliant technically, but screenplay could use work

By STEVE PERSALL

Times Film Critic

With a title like Monsters vs. Aliens, the only way this animated eyeful won't make a fortune is by destroying all prints with a blast of Godzilla's bad breath.

Yet something about this creature feature feels ordinary, even on an IMAX screen with 3-D glasses pulling orbs, ooze and trampled debris into your face. Maybe it's too derivative of 1950s sci-fi adventures that were silly to begin with. We've already cracked many of these jokes while watching the late, late show.

A red carpet roster of celebrity voices gamely pushes the fantasy: Reese Witherspoon voices Susan Murphy, whose wedding to an arrogant TV weatherman (Paul Rudd) is interrupted when a meteor lands on her. Radiation transforms her into an accidentally attacking 50-foot woman (give or take a foot) subdued by U.S. troops and imprisoned in a secret prison for monsters.

Susan — now named Ginormica — meets other inmates based on classic flicks, their origins shown in flashbacks: Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a mad scientist hybrid like the Fly; the Missing Link (Will Arnett), a cockier Creature from the Black Lagoon; an enormous, cuddly larvae named Insectosaurus, from the Mothra species.

Most amusingly, there's B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), which rhymes with the Blob for good reason. Rogen's inner childishness and a tub of cleverly gelatinous sight gags make B.O.B. the breakout star shouldering the laugh load, if only he had shoulders.

Their captor, Gen. W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland), is alarmed by news that the meteor that conked Susan is the first wave of an alien attack. The warlord Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson, hilariously arch) wants to drain Earth's resources. The president (Stephen Colbert) orders the monsters' release, a last- ditch strategy to save the planet.

Monsters vs. Aliens is brilliant in all technical regards, with a Golden Gate Bridge destruction and Death Star-style finale guaranteed to make 3-D viewers duck. However, the screenplay doesn't live up to the spectacle.

Five writers are credited, suggesting too many personally favored gags without enough thought to how they should blend together. The best extended comedy sequence occurs when the president attempts to communicate with the alien intruders, pushing the Close Encounters of the Third Kind cliche as far at it will go.

Then there are the missed opportunities for material. I can't believe nobody came up with a joke about bad dubbing of voices, or some peek-a-boo answers to the questions: Why doesn't Susan's wedding gown rip off when she grows, and where does her later plus-plus-sized wardrobe come from? Even a Pretty Woman-style makeover montage might be fun.

Monsters vs. Aliens does contain a nice message about female empowerment, with Susan/Ginormica growing in more directions than up. The nostalgia factor for parents should translate into curiosity about old-school sci-fi for their kids.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.

The name: B.O.B.

Genus: Monster

Voiced by: Seth Rogen

The name: Gallaxhar

Genus: Alien

Voiced by: Rainn Wilson

. Review

Monsters vs. Aliens

Grade: B

Directors: Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon

Cast: Voices of Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Laurie, Seth Rogen, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, Kiefer Sutherland, Stephen Colbert, Paul Rudd

Screenplay: Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky, Rob Letterman, Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger

Rating: PG; brief crude humor and language, sci-fi action

Running time: 94 min.

'Monsters vs. Aliens' brilliant technically, but screenplay could use work 03/25/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 4:30am]
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