Monsters vs. AliensReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/02/09 14:42:52
The very idea of “Monsters vs. Aliens” suggests an endless supply of retro delight, and I’d bet that’s how the whole thing started. Yet somewhere along the way, as the script was handed from writer to writer and over and again, all that geeky sci-fi love got muted, replaced with generic adventure and flat comedy. Here is a movie that should in every frame celebrate its creature feature influences, yet here is a movie that instead dumps “Axel F” jokes on us.Yes, “Axel F.” The joke is so old it might as well play a monster in this movie: the President (voiced, in a pinch of brilliant casting, by Stephen Colbert) approaches a recently landed spacecraft and plays the “Close Encounters” notes on a keyboard. Upon receiving no reply, he busts out some Harold Faltermeyer, which he plays for a good minute or so as he dances and Secret Service agents nod their heads to the beat. It’s the sort of dumb gag that belongs in one of those Friedberg/Seltzer flops, and probably got squeezed in here after one too many script meetings where some suit thought it would be funny to throw in some pop culture jokes, you know, like in “Shrek.”
Indeed, the script for “Monsters vs. Aliens” goes out of its way to fit in a great deal of unnecessary punchlines. There’s even an entire paragraph of dialogue set up so a character can crack an “Inconvenient Truth” pun, never mind that the joke has nothing to do with anything and that no kid in the audience will understand it anyway. Because, you know, hey, parents, we mentioned that Al Gore movie from a couple years back, and doesn’t that make us all hip and with it and stuff?
What a movie like this needs is some subtle humor to offset the loud action. And it’s there, sometimes, poking in from around the edges. The story involves a collection of old school movie monsters - inspired by the Blob, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Mothra, plus a mad scientist/cockroach-man thrown in for good measure - who turn out to be average Joes. Origin footage cleverly parodies memorable movie scenes, like the shot of the gelatinous B.O.B. (Seth Rogen, who earns a few giggles out of an endearingly dopey performance) oozing out of a doorway, or the fishman Missing Link (Will Arnett) trying to carry off a leggy blonde. (Hugh Laurie rounds out the cast as Dr. Cockroach; Keifer Sutherland is General W.R. Monger, the gruff cigar-chomper who’s kept them all locked up for the past fifty years.)
Oh, the potential of this line-up. But instead of whip-smart parody of classic genre flicks or a loving tribute to the drive-in days, we’re left with something far lesser. A few winking moments sneak through (I loved the scene spoofing the clichéd teenage make-out couple), but the rest is disappointingly empty, like a bit lampooning Dance Dance Revolution and disco, because, um, both of those concepts are pop culture things, and, hey, you know, wasn’t that “Axel F” joke a hoot?
The ultra-flimsy, barely-there story involves Susan (Reese Witherspoon), whose wedding day was interrupted by a radioactive meteorite that left her growing into the Fifty-Foot Woman. She’s locked up with the other monsters, only to be set loose once an alien ship controlled by the dopey squid-man alien Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) threatens San Francisco.
From here, we’re left walking through a series of limply connected Key Points. A battle on the Golden Gate Bridge is inventive, but it follows bland sequences where “characters moving quickly” is mistaken for thrills and excitement. That’s followed by some obligatory character development where Susan returns home to discover her fiancé (Paul Rudd) has dumped her. Then Gallaxhar shows up, clones himself, everyone fights, and that’s it. Somewhere in the middle there’s some stuff about believing in yourself or not underestimating your friends or something; like everything else here, the moral feels tacked on by requirement. The characters, meanwhile, wind up being woefully underdeveloped (insert your own catty 3-D joke here), as they’re not so much characters as plot pawns to move us from this committee-designed set piece to that committee-designed pop culture reference.The action is fast-paced enough to keep kids interested, but that hardly cuts it. “Monsters vs. Aliens” is a terrific idea with the heart sucked out, replaced by scenes that’ll make great action figures but not great storytelling.
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