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Movie Mom

A new animation studio called Rainmaker has produced its first film, “Escape from Planet Earth,” a story of sibling rivalry and aliens.  It almost works as an amiable, if derivative time-waster for kids with a few jokes for the grown-ups, but too much is unsettlingly off-base.

On the planet Baab, where the inhabitants are blue and nearly bald, Scorch Supernova (Brendan Fraser) is a big, brash, brave, impulsive hero.  His Buzz-Lightyear knock-off spacesuit is festooned with NASCAR-style sponsor patches.  In between missions, he promotes his cereal brand, Scorchies.

His brother Gary Supernova (Rob Corddry) is the brilliant but careful, brilliant mission control specialist who makes sure Scorch knows what he has to do, where he has to be, and how to get back home.  His coffee mug says, “I (HEART) Safety.”  Gary tells Scorch to proceed with extreme caution and Scorch responds that he will proceed with style.

Scorch always calls Gary his “little brother” and Gary irritably reminds Scorch that he may be smaller but he is actually older.  Each feels unappreciated by the other.  And each secretly thinks his contribution is the more important one.

They complete a successful mission rescuing kidnapped Baab-ian babies from a planet inhabited by creatures with big teeth who thought of the babies as a delicacy.  But it put such a strain on their working relationship that they split up, just as Scorch is about to undertake his most dangerous mission of all — a trip to “the dark planet” of earth, “the only world in which evolution goes in reverse.”  More than 100 aliens have landed there and none has made it home.  Scorch, insisting he can do it on his own, arrives on earth and is immediately captured.  Gary goes after him, and he gets captured, too.  And of course they are taken to Area 51.

They are held there by General Shanker (William Shatner), where they are forced to give up their inventions — like social networking, cell phones, computer animation, and search engines — so that the general can finance some big contraption he says is to help preserve peace.  The brothers will have to learn to work together and to appreciate each other if they are to get back home.  And they will need the help of Gary’s wife Kira (Sarah Jessica Parker) and son.

There are a couple of good jokes and some of the characters are well-designed and voiced, especially Jane Lynch as a one-eyed alien who appears to be made out of lobster shells.  The prison-like setting where Scorch, Gary, and the other aliens are kept and much of the humor is reminiscent of films like “Paul,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Monsters vs. Aliens.”  But the movie slides from the unimaginative to the weirdly creepy when the aliens are told that if they work they will be set free in a chillingly insensitive echo of the infamous Auschwitz gate.  When Gary’s boss (Jessica Alba) repeatedly insults Kira for being a stay-at-home mother, it falls flat.  So do the jokes about Gary’s being a nerd, making fun of him for being smart.  It’s one thing to have all the aliens breathe air and speak English, but having them travel back and forth between planets in less time than it takes to fly from New York to Chicago and have characters show up on Baab when they were left behind on earth three days earlier feels less like sci-fi than laziness.

Parents should know that this movie includes extended peril and action and some scary-looking aliens, some potty humor, and a parent getting crushed by a UFO.  There are some oddly insensitive jokes about nerds not having any friends and stay-at-home mothers not being capable.

Family discussion: Why was it so hard for Gary And Scorch to be nice to each other?

If you like this, try: “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Monsters, Inc.”

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