Kid stuff — but the 3D is cool

BY MELEA ANDRYS | MARCH 30, 2009 7:30 AM

Film Review: Monsters and Aliens
*** out of *****

One glance at the cast list for Monsters vs. Aliens is enough to make anyone with a shard of pop-culture literacy go apeshit.

While America’s sweetheart Reese Witherspoon carries the lead role, Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd offer Frat Pack comedy support from the sidelines. Television’s finest step out of the boob tube and onto the big screen, including Jack Bauer and House M.D. (Kiefer Sutherland and Hugh Laurie), as well as “The Office” darlings Rainn Wilson, Ed Helms, and John Krasinski. The all-star cast is pushed over the top by Hollywood power-comedy couple Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, and Stephen Colbert as — what else? — an incompetent president.

With all the talent backing Monsters vs. Aliens, it’s tremendously disappointing — and perhaps a little incomprehensible — that the movie itself is so dismissible. Though the 3D effects are undoubtedly amazing, what could have been the beginning of another DreamWorks franchise is cut short because of flimsy, unmemorable writing and a boringly obvious narrative arc.

When saccharine California girl Susan Murphy (Witherspoon) is struck by a meteorite on her wedding day, she is transformed into Ginormica, a 50-foot woman with super strength. The government immediately intervenes, whisking her away to a secret location that has been covering up the existence of monsters since the 1950s. There, Murphy meets Dr. Cockroach (Laurie), a mad scientist whose experiments turned him into the unstomp-able insect; Link (Arnett), the notorious missing link; and B.O.B. (Rogen), an indestructible blue blob.

But when the alien Gallaxhar (Wilson) attacks, the government turns to the monsters it has hidden away to save Earth’s people. What follows is an overdone tale of self-discovery and self-esteem, told through the lens of some jokes that may or may not be funny, depending on your maturity level. Yes, Monsters vs. Aliens is a kids film, so I can let the snot jokes slide, but the parent-targeted humor-via-innuendoes is at times inappropriate — for example, offering a snapshot of an overaggressive teenage girl trying to get her reluctant boyfriend to make out with her in a parked car. Though there are some comedic moments that really shine (such as when Colbert’s President Hathaway attempts to make first contact with an alien spaceship by playing the notes made famous by Close Encounters of the Third Kind), there simply aren’t enough of them to propel this film to a Shrek-like family-classic status.

Despite its narrative shortcomings, Monsters vs. Aliens is saved from banishment to the ghetto of Open Season or Bee Movie purely because of its visual prowess. As spaceships whiz by, meteorites fall from space, and buildings are blown apart, it’s hard not to mentally regress into a super excited, wide-eyed 6-year-old (this distraction works in the film’s favor, as many of its flaws become less obvious because you’re too busy watching a dude play paddle ball in your face). With the best use of 3D technology of any film from the recent resurgence, Monsters vs. Aliens is sure to go in history as the Typhoid Mary that will turn all subsequent computer animated films into three-dimensional epics.

Though it’s debatable whether this industrywide shift will be a good thing, the fact that Monsters vs. Aliens would be intolerable save for the 3D aspect is not. Monsters vs. Aliens is fine for kids, but it simply does not provide enough meaty narrative layers to interest anyone over the age of 10.

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