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In a fallow period for kid-friendly entertainment, The Weinstein Company has shrewdly rushed in to fill the gap with Escape from Planet Earth. It was not screened in advance for critics, but then, how many eight-year-olds are likely to read reviews? With a bunch of blue animated figures who might be confused with Smurfs (returning this summer), the picture has enough entertainment value to tickle its target audience and even offers a few chuckles for accompanying adults. A strong cast and bright — if uninspired — animation help to offset a thin story. Decent box office returns seem likely.
The film opens confusingly by demonstrating the heroic stature of Scorch Supernova (Brendan Fraser) on his home planet of Baab. It takes a sloppy 10 minutes for the main story to kick into gear. Scorch learns of a problem on the Dark Planet — that’s what Earth is called in the farther reaches of the galaxy — and bounds off to the rescue. What he doesn’t know is that he’s being manipulated by a troubled, power-mad general (amusingly played by William Shatner in what may be an homage to Sterling Hayden’s General Jack D. Ripper from Dr. Strangelove), who aims to capture aliens from assorted planets and use them for his own megalomaniacal purposes. Scorch’s nerdy brother Gary (Rob Corddry), who works at mission control on Baab, musters up his courage to tackle his first-ever dangerous adventure and travels to Earth to free Scorch.
From that point on, the plot is predictable and undernourished. There’s a complication in the form of a traitorous bigwig on Baab (Jessica Alba), who is having a very long-distance romance with the general, at least as long as he wears his Elvis toupee. The story lurches forward in fits and starts, but there are welcome bursts of humor along the way. A documentary shown to Scorch and Gary to illuminate the backward nature of life on Earth is a highlight, though the film should have tried to incorporate more of this puckish social satire. Ricky Gervais has some droll moments as the voice of the computer assisting the mission, though he’s underutilized. On Earth, Scorch and Gary encounter a bevy of other aliens, voiced by performers like Jane Lynch, Craig Robinson and George Lopez, with Steve Zahn and Chris Parnell providing additional comic relief as a couple of trailer-park stoners eager to help the aliens. Corddry and Fraser do well with their roles, though Sarah Jessica Parker and Sofia Vergara are wasted as their love interests back home.
Visually the film offers modest if colorful pleasures. Canadian director Cal Brunker provides an amiable spirit for this caper. A couple of chase sequences take advantage of the 3-D technology. What’s disappointing about so many of today’s animated movies is that even though they run 90 minutes or less, they usually seem padded. Toward the end of Escape, we are treated to sentimental re-affirmations of brotherly bonding that add very little to this adventure. Nevertheless, the creatures and the human villain provide the necessary spice.
Opens: February 15 (The Weinstein Company).
Production: GRF Productions, Rainmaker Entertainment
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Rob Corddry, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Alba, William Shatner, Ricky Gervais, Jonathan Morgan Heit, Sofia Vergara, Jane Lynch, Craig Robinson.
Director: Cal Brunker.
Screenwriters: Bob Barlen, Cal Brunker.
Story by: Cory Edwards, Tony Leech.
Producers: Catherine Winder, Luke Carroll, Brian Inerfeld.
Executive producers: Marvin Peart, Tony Leech, Radenko Milakovic, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein.
Director of photography: Matthew A. Ward.
Production designer: Barry Jackson.
Music: Aaron Zigman.
Editors: Matthew Landon, Scott Winlaw.
PG rating, 89 minutes.
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