Volume 93, Issue 83

Wednesday, March 8, 2000


Planet is exercise in comedic impotence

Madonna's Best Thing barely a consolation

Midler's latest sinks and swims

Angie Stone's debut glitters, Snoop's effort glides

Planet is exercise in comedic impotence

©Photo by Francois Duhamel
THE LAST RENDITION OF DIE ALCOHOLICSTEIN PROVED THAT GERMAN PERFORMANCE ART WAS ALIVE AND WELL. Garry Shandling and Annette Bening share a much needed drink in What Planet Are You From?

By Anthony Turow
Gazette Staff

Mike Nichols' new comedy, What Planet Are You From?, is another example of a film attempting to milk one joke into a feature length showing. Sadly, one joke does not a movie make.

The film centres around an alien (Garry Shandling) who is transported to earth for the sole purpose of reproducing. If he creates offspring with an earth girl, he will assist in maintaining his planet's dominance for generations to come – failure is not an option.

His leader, Graydon (played by Ben Kingsley), deploys him to earth with the blasť name of Harold Anderson and a job as a loan manager. In addition to establishing Harold's new identity as an earthling, Graydon also has to attach a penis to the asexual alien. Unfortunately, there is one relatively large problem – the damn thing hums whenever Harold gets aroused.

Once established, Harold befriends Perry Gordon (Greg Kinnear), a sleazy co-worker who educates him on earth women. Together, they go to strip clubs and attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings just to pick up vulnerable girls. It's at one of these meetings where Harold meets his future wife, Susan (Annette Bening), a woman who has all but given up on men. When Harold surprises her by declaring his intentions to have children, Susan falls hard. They subsequently marry after their first date.

It'd be nice to say that there is more to What Planet Are You From? than this. The only subplot deals with an airline security official (John Goodman) obsessed with uncovering the truth about Harold. However, this story line seems to exist for the sole reason of giving this weak exercise some sense of conflict. What's worse is it doesn't work, so again we resort to the humming penis for laughs. Are we having fun yet?

It really is a shame. With all the talent involved, one would have thought that this movie could be more than one long, naughty joke. Nichols, director of such comedies as The Graduate and Working Girl, is adept at giving his films a human touch, traditionally relying on natural humour rather than forced punchlines. Here, his low-key approach hampers the material – it's tough to justify a restrained style when the subject matter is a humming wanker.

It's also frustrating to see Shandling's talents wasted. His only funny moments result from trademark mugging to the camera. These express infinitely more than the piles of poor dialogue which is forced upon his character. You'd think that Shandling, who co-wrote this film, would have preferred to take a more sophisticated, satirical approach. The impetus for some great satire is present here, but ultimately it amounts to no more than a commentary on the battle of the sexes.

The one positive aspect of this film is Bening, who escapes unscathed by turning in a truly comedic performance. It's too bad her efforts are unappreciated – her timing is impeccable and she elicits the maximum effect from her handful of weak lines.

Unfortunately, there is nothing more to say about this humming-alien-penis film other than it's one limp affair. Pun fully intended.

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