The mood is romantic. The couple is parked in a secluded spot overlooking their charming home town. They lean in for a kiss. And then an alien rocket ship lands. I hate it when that happens.
Okay, no I don’t. I enjoy it. That’s a classic cheesy 1950’s alien invasion movie set-up and “Planet 51” knows that very well. The scene we have just watched is from a movie called “Humanoids” and it is happily being enjoyed by a theater filled with rapt, popcorn-chomping, little green creatures with antennae. Just like the couple in the car on screen. Dorothy, we’re not just not in Kansas anymore; we’re not even on planet Earth.
It feels like an idealized, if retro suburban Earth setting, though. The houses have white picket fences and the soundtrack has standards from the 1950’s. You could imagine Dick and Jane, Ozzie and Harriet, or Archie and Veronica playing hopscotch on the sidewalk, if they were green and had four fingers.
In this idyllic setting we have Lem (voice of Justin Long), very happy because he just got a job in the planetarium and is beginning to think Neera, the pretty girl next door (voice of Jessica Biel), kind of likes him. And there’s Lem’s friend Skiff (voice of Seann William Scott), who wears braces and works at the comic book store. And then things get complicated when an alien arrives.
That would be one of us.
This is “E.T.” in reverse. The American astronaut is the alien invader. His name is Chuck (voice of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). While many of the people on the planet (I know, they’re not human, but I’m going to call them people) are terrified and determined to kill, capture, or dissect Chuck, Lem, Neera, and Skiff are willing to try to get to know him.
This theme is very similar to the more serious Battle for Terra 3D earlier this year. But it is sillier and sweeter, with a cute robotic sidekick somewhere between R2D2 and a puppy. It is also a little bland. It is a shame that a movie tweaking retro cliches falls into the white bread conventions itself, especially from a Madrid-based production company. That they believe Americans will only buy tickets to movies about white guys shows that the message of the movie about how it is all right to be different has not really been learned.