- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

The premise of the new animated family comedy “Planet 51” is mildly amusing: What if humans landed on an alien planet, the culture of which was roughly equivalent to that of the United States in the 1950s?

In practice, however, the movie never quite works. Children won’t understand the ‘50s-based humor or the references to the creature features that dominated the era, while adults will muster little more than the occasional chuckle as allusions to other, more recent films — movies as diverse as “Alien,” “E.T.” and “The Right Stuff” — whiz by on the screen.

As “Planet 51” opens, teenage alien Lem (Justin Long) has just scored his dream job: He’s going to be working at the planetarium as a junior assistant, opening the minds of children to the wonders of the universe. Only one thing stands between Lem and adulthood: his timidity in asking out attractive next-door neighbor Neera (Jessica Biel).

In the midst of Lem’s trials and tribulations crashes Captain Charles “Chuck” T. Baker (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). Having landed on a planet he presumed to be devoid of life, Chuck freaks out when he finds green antennaed bipeds with a penchant for bobby socks and an irrational fear of pink-skinned aliens roaming a white-picket-fenced neighborhood.

Needless to say, Chuck and Lem must join forces to win over a populace that suspects Chuck has landed on their planet to eat their brains and assure Neera, who worries that Lem will never man up (alien up?) and ask her out.

The animation in this Sony Pictures film is bland but still quite pretty in a Dreamworks-like way — not that there’s anything here to top the visual grandeur of a Pixar picture.

Similarly, the voice work is plenty competent but otherwise uninspiring. Mr. Long gets the job done as Lem, while Miss Biel’s casting is a little puzzling: Her smoky, earthy voice isn’t necessarily what springs to mind when her character — a teenage girl with mannerisms from the 1950s — is in action.

One wonders if the studio failed to realize that it is unnecessary to hire an attractive female to fill the role of “attractive female lead” when said role is animated.

★½
TITLE: “Planet 51”
RATING: PG (mild sci-fi action and some suggestive humor)
CREDITS: Directed by Jorge Blanco, written by Joe Stillman
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
WEB SITE: https://www.planet51.com/
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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