It's an impressive feat for a movie to be strange and forgettable, subversive yet littered with crass product placement. Escape from Planet Earth manages to be all of these things and more. In this world, aliens are abducted by government officials, Roswell is an intergalactic work camp, an Army general is conducting an online affair with a sexy alien lady, and the stoners who work or hang out or whatever at 7-11 ply their new little blue friend with a matching blue Slurpee. Sounds promising, right?
Not entirely. For the most part, the plodding plot is driven by a lackluster sibling rivalry between Gary Supernova (Rob Corddry) and his lantern-jawed brother Scorch (Brendan Fraser). These little blue dudes live on the planet Baab and work at BASA, which is (obviously) Baab's version of NASA. Gary's the nerdy mission control guy who saves his brother's butt when Scorch is off being a bad ass astronaut. A plodding series of events lands them both on Earth, a planet full of violent, devolved creatures where aliens from across the galaxy routinely go missing. There, they find the devious General Shanker (William Shatner) is snatching otherwise peaceful aliens and putting them to work on building a giant weapon that will destroy the universe. The other aliens Gary and Scorch run into are way more interesting and fun than the folks they left behind on Baab — a cafeteria food fight between Roswell employees and the aliens is more entertaining than 90% of the interactions between Gary and Scorch — which is a bummer since Gary's wife Kira (Sarah Jessica Parker) is hot on their heels to rescue them. Lena, the head of BASA, is a lovelorn villainess (Jessica Alba) who would be willing to blow up the world for a hot human with an Elvis pompadour that she met online. She and Kira used to be coworkers but now Lena's like, whatever, now you're a stay-at-home mom! And Kira's like, I will kick your butt. And so on. The female characters in the movie are pretty decent, all things considered.
Still, Escape from Planet Earth is a bit of a mess. Are we rooting for family values? Or railing against how silly humans are? Or constantly, odiously plugging 7-11? There is also auto-tuned music on the soundtrack, although it's not clear if this was yet another invention of the aliens (like the iPhone, Facebook, the Internet, and Pixar, according to one montage) or yet another example of how humans have devolved. Adding to the confusion: a sexy news reporter alien voiced by Sofía Vergara.
Escape from Plant Earth seems like its plot was originally cooked up by some sorta cool goofy dudes — I mean, Steve Zahn and Chris Parnell as stoners who work at 7-11? Pretty funny! — that was then wrangled into something a little more family-friendly. (Vis the website, which is littered with seals of approval from the Parents Television Council and the Dove Foundation.) It's not that it's particularly bad, it's just not something that sticks with you in any meaningful way. The rest of the voice cast is pretty good, like Craig Robinson as a cool talk radio "therapist" alien and Jane Lynch as a one-eyed librarian from the sun with anger management problems. It's just that there's so much other stuff happening that isn't particularly gripping. Like the crux of the entire story. Who cares if Gary and Scorch ever make up? Who cares that Kip thinks his dad is a pantywaist? You really don't. In a world where film-lovers of all ages can be challenged, entertained, and moved by animated film, it's entirely fair to expect more of family films.
(Escape from Planet Earth is available in 3D, but for expediency's sake, I saw the 2D version.)
[Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company]
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Of course the kiddies will probably enjoy Clone Wars much more than their adult chaperones; it has a certain videogame sensibility that will appeal to them whether they are into Star Wars or not. Taken from the animated TV show this big-screen treatment falls somewhere between Episode II and Episode III before Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader in which Jedi Knights Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi are knee-deep in droids in their fight against the Separatists lead by Count Dooku. Anakin Obi-Wan and Anakin’s new Padawan trainee Ahsoka Teno however are called away from the frontlines for a side mission: to rescue Jabba the Hutt’s kidnapped son. That’s correct. The slimy crime lord apparently has a baby slug who doesn’t smell very good (according to Ahsoka). Of course it’s all part of some master plan by Dooku to destroy the Jedi but seeing Jabba’s son is quite something. Wonder what happened to him by the time Return of the Jedi came around? What a change of pace. Besides Christopher Lee who reprises his role as Dooku Samuel L. Jackson who briefly voices his Mace Windu character and Anthony Daniels as C3P0 the rest of the voices are mostly unknowns. That’s probably a good thing because if some A-list movie star had to recite the awful dialogue The Clone Wars dishes out they’d be embarrassed. Wow is it bad. The supposed playful banter between Anakin and the feisty Ahsoka is particularly cringe-worthy. And unfortunately it sort of falls in line with how poorly written Episodes I through III were as well. Which leads me to my main pet peeve about the continuing Star Wars saga: George Lucas has never found another writer on par with Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote the two best Star Wars movies Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi). God knows the man is great with the visuals. As Clone Wars executive producer you can see all the innovation Lucas pours into the animation. The film has just as much action as one of the live-action films and is quite vibrant--real eye candy for the video-gaming generation. But Lucas gets so caught up in all the details and the universe he has created he forgets about a compelling script--or hiring a good writer to write it for him. It seems like he just figures people will love it anyway because it’s Star Wars. Maybe some will but for others like me we need more. Clone Wars doesn’t give it to you.