What Planet Are You From? Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 2000

Gary Shandling

Sex, sex. sex. sex. sex. sex. sex. sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex... and more sex. "What Planet are You From?" may be billed as a science fiction comedy (I guess that's something akin to "Men in Black"), but underneath this flimsy excuse for a movie are a lot of jokes about sex, and not necessarily funny ones at that.

Somewhere out in deep space, there is a planet inhabited solely by a technologically advanced race of men. Over the eons that they have existed, their reproductive organs and emotions have atrophied from lack of use (apparently they reproduce via cloning technology), and in order for their species to flourish, they must go to Earth and conquer it by impregnating a woman. How this would plausibly achieve the desired result is never fully explained, but it doesn't matter, since nothing else in the story makes sense either.

Annette Bening

After receiving numerous briefings on relating to human women (just keep saying 'uh-huh' in response to everything she says) and the sexual act, one man (played by Gary Shandling of "Hurlyburly") is chosen by the planet's supreme leader (Ben Kingsley of "Species") to undertake this crucial mission. He is promptly outfitted with artificial genitalia, given the identity of Harold Anderson, and sent to Earth to impregnate the first Earth woman that he can find.

Of course, the task is much more difficult than anticipated. In your classical 'fish out of water' story, Harold bumbles through his first attempts at propositioning suitable (actually any) candidates, which stems from his poor understanding of basic human male-female dynamics. Even worse, his artificial genitalia whirs noisily every time he becomes aroused (the more aroused, the louder the pitch), further complicating an already awkward situation.

Linda Fiorentino and Greg Kinnear

Fortunately, Harold survives his initial ordeals and gets a job as a commercial loans manager at a bank, where he comes to know Perry (Greg Kinnear of "Mystery Men"), a skirt-chasing co-worker who is an incurable philanderer. Through Perry, Harold meets Susan (Annette Bening of "American Beauty") at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, apparently a perfect place to go trawling for single women. Unfortunately, Susan has had a bad string of troubled relationships in her past, and decides never to have sex again until she is married. Pegging the hopes of his planet on this woman (why, when there are 3 billion more to choose from?), Harold pops Susan the question, and you can pretty well guess what happens after that.

John Goodman

"What Planet Are You From?" is a disappointing offering from director Mike Nichols, who helmed "Primary Colors" a couple of years back. With this latest film, it seems that the veteran director has taken a few steps back, since this is more akin to something that the Farrely brothers ("There's Something About Mary") would throw together. This is due to the one-track mind of Shandling's script, which eschews drama and the subtleties of storytelling for the singular purpose of squeezing in more sex jokes.

In terms of the humor employed here, most of the jokes seem to be remnants that floated back up to the surface after having been flushed somewhere else. The humming genitalia joke gets old very quickly, and the endless parade of sex jokes seems to drone on to the point of turning into background noise. Similarly, while Shandling is appropriately clueless at the film's beginning (doing the same thing he did on "The Larry Sanders Show"), he maintains the same shtick all the way through the movie, which ceases to be funny by the end of the first act. Along that line, the only thing crudely resembling a decent performance is found in Annette Bening, who does the best that she can with an underwritten character. Brimming with enthusiasm and genuine emotion, Bening is the one bright spot in a cast of characters populated with cartoon caricatures.

In addition to the numerous sex jokes, the script takes a scatterbrained approach to telling its story, raising and dropping subplots at random without adequately exploring any of them, including ones that revolve around a FAA investigator (John Goodman of "Bringing Out the Dead") on Harold's trail, and Perry's calculating wife (Linda Fiorentino of "Dogma") who inexplicably has a thing for Harold. By about the halfway point, the film then changes gears by morphing into a sappy feel-good movie as Harold begins developing emotions and learns the true meaning of what it means to be human. Of course, it's difficult to take any of this seriously given the emotionless filth that immediately preceded it.

Rude, crude, and not very funny, "What Planet are You From?" is a movie that beats its one-joke premise into the ground. It may have looked like a good idea on paper, but on the big screen the movie's glaring faults are painfully obvious.

Images courtesy of Columbia Pictures. All rights reserved.

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