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Dustin Putman

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Planet 51  (2009)
1 Star
Directed by Jorge Blanco; co-directed by Javier Abad, Marcos Martinez.
Voice Cast: Justin Long, Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Gary Oldman, Seann William Scott, John Cleese, Freddie Benedict, Alan Marriott.
2009 – 90 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for some suggestive humor).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 16, 2009.
The idea behind "Planet 51" is an original one, full of potential. The film that has been made to service this idea, however, is a botched job, clearly made by a behind-the-scenes team with precious few creative juices flowing. Director Jorge Blanco and co-directors Javier Abad and Marcos Martinez are novices without any previous credits to their names, while executive producers number an astounding eleven in total. By comparison, screenwriter Joe Stillman is a seasoned veteran, having helped pen 2001's "Shrek" and 2004's "Shrek 2." That fact is not enough to save the day. Besides exhibiting no real interest in exploring its own premise, "Planet 51" is bland, unfunny, charmless and boring, an animated turkey being released just in time for Thanksgiving that even undiscriminating kids will be able to pinpoint as a forgettable waste.

When astronaut Captain Charles T. Baker (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) steps foot on an unidentified alien planet, he expects to find a deserted wasteland. Instead, he discovers a world strikingly similar to 1950s Middle America, populated by intelligent life equating to earth's animals and humans. The townspeople of Glipforg freak out, viewing Charles as a threat—the first sign of an alien invasion. Lem (Justin Long), an assistant curator at the local planetarium, quickly befriends Charles and agrees to help him get back to his space shuttle in Area 9, being tested and lorded over by General Grawl (Gary Oldman).

The height of cleverness in "Planet 51?" One character has an acid-urinating pet named Ripley made to look like H.R. Giger's alien design. The rest of the film is a wash, a low-rent, almost insufferable kid flick with references that will go over the heads of its target audience and will prove too predictable and lame for adults. The plot is frustrating in its lack of logic and curiosity. What is the planet called that Charles has discovered? What race are the people that live there? How come their native language is English when, as far as can be told, they have never ventured to earth? None of the characters from either side bothers to question these things, their lack of interest gradually equating to the viewers'.

As the story of a friendship between human and alien, a sort of "E.T." in reverse set on the aliens' home turf, no impact is made. Both Charles and Lem, not to mention all of the supporting players, are wan, one-dimensional afterthoughts, sweetness drowned out by intermittent jokes of inappropriate coarseness. Do anal probe gags sound like fine, worthwhile family entertainment? How about multiple scenes depicting ugly gay panic? Not to worry; a penis joke referring to a male member as an "antenna" is right around the corner. Who thought this material was a good idea, more preferable than actually developing honest or warm characters and relationships? Not to be outdone, director Jorge Blano tosses in a would-be comic bit involving "Macarena," successfully taking older viewers not already snoozing away right back to 1999.

"Planet 51" is lazy and offensive. The town square of Glipforg, established as a sort of Hill Valley from "Back to the Future," is bucolic, its '50s mentality backed up by a soundtrack of era-appropriate tunes and cheesy sci-fi B-movies playing at the local theater. Otherwise, nothing is done with this setting or its people, the majority of them little more than clones without individual personalities. Lem's romance with next-door neighbor Neera (Jessica Biel) is a non-starter, hurt by Neera's self-absorption. Her turnaround is too little, too late. Dime-a-dozen action sequences are hectic without being energetic or involving. That the half-black/half-Samoan Dwayne Johnson (2009's "Race to Witch Mountain") has been instructed to voice a white protagonist is tantamount to animated black-face, as if a character of any other race or ethnicity is not worthy of being an astronaut or an animated hero. Even the computer animation is uninspired, notably deficient in fine detail. "Planet 51" has been made with too many cooks in the kitchen, and there isn't a top chef among them.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman