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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While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]