Sunday, March 29, 2009

Monsters vs. Aliens / **½ (PG)

Featuring the vocal talents of:
Susan Murphy/Ginormica: Reese Witherspoon
B.O.B.: Seth Rogen
Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D.: Hugh Laurie
The Missing Link: Will Arnett
General W.R. Monger: Kiefer Sutherland
Gallaxhar: Rainn Wilson
Derek Dietl: Paul Rudd
The President: Stephen Colbert

DreamWorks Animation presents a film directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon. Written by Maya Forbes & Wallace Wolodarsky and Letterman and Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger and Vernon. Running time: 94 min. Rated PG (for sci-fi action, some crude humor and mild language).

Isn’t it supposed to go “the government has been covering up the existence of aliens for over fifty years now”? Well, that’s not exactly the story in the new DreamWorks Animation movie “Monsters vs. Aliens”. In this one it’s monsters that have been a top-secret government cover up for years. We learn this when an irradiated meteor strikes poor Susan Murphy on her wedding day and turns her into a giant. This unfortunate incident wins her a one-way ticket to a government holding facility.

That’s how this strange cartoon begins. It’s a peculiar movie that never really seems to find its bearings. That’s oddly reflective of the monster characters we meet and come to sort of care for over the course of this simple hour and a half long movie. It doesn’t really strive for much plot or meaning, so I suppose it achieves the filmmakers’ goals of being fairly basic entertainment. There are funny moments, and some stunning CGI visuals, so it should make audiences happy. But it left me wanting a little more.

After her abduction by the government, Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon, “Four Christmases”) wakes to find herself in a ridiculously vast facility in which she is captive with four other “monsters”. One is a sort of fish-man known as The Missing Link (Will Arnett, “Arrested Development”). Another is a scientist named Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie, FOX’s “House M.D.”) who conveniently—considering his name---turned himself into a cockroach man in an effort to produce a serum in invincibility. B.O.B. (Seth Rogen, “Pineapple Express”) is a gelatinous blob, who apparently exists without a brain. And, there’s the giant Japanese-inspired monster Insectosaurus. It’s a surprisingly small group of monsters for the government to have collected over so many years.

There is a wonderfully humorous conversation about Susan’s monster name during which Seth Rogen proves with his vocal performance that B.O.B. will be the monster that walks away with all the laughs of the movie. I can imagine an animated film somewhat like “Seinfeld”, where these strange creatures spend all their time talking about the trivialities of life as a monster. The monster’s warden, General W.R. Monger—get it?—brings the discussion to an end by informing Susan her monster name is Ginormica. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland, FOX’s “24”) also informs Susan that she will never be let out of the facility, a fact that changes once the country needs these monsters.

Meanwhile, the alien Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson, “The Rocker”) has traced the same asteroid to Earth that gave Susan her mutation. He needs her power to rebuild his planet, so he sends a giant robot to Earth to capture her. Since aliens only seem to invade the United States, The President is on hand to offer a peaceful contact. “I’m a brave president!” is what he cries out as he scrambles onto Air Force One after the robot attacks. Political comedian Stephen Colbert (“The Colbert Report”) finds his dream role in The President and infuses him with the appropriate amount of idiocy.

Now, in a movie called “Monsters vs. Aliens” I would expect a whole lot more aliens, but considering the equally small cast of monsters, simplicity seems to be the main objective here. Gallaxhar is really kind of like a talking octopus, which makes him not much different than the monsters. Aren’t movie aliens really monsters anyway? So that makes a total of six monsters in “Monsters vs. Aliens”. And of course the monsters here are treated kind of like aliens from the human race. Is the showdown of the title really a philosophical debate? It certainly seems to be a battle of semantics. I guess it isn’t as simple as it first seems.

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