Movie Review: Monstres contre Aliens
By Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
The new DreamWorks animated 3-D feature "Monsters vs. Aliens" is blessed with a high-concept title - possibly the highest ever; my son's been hocking me about this movie since before he was born - and Seth Rogen's serenely dense line readings in the role of a genetically altered tomato gone wrong. But a bizarre percentage of the project went wrong somewhere, along with the tomato.
Pilfering everything from "Mothra" to "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" to "Men in Black" and "Monsters, Inc." the script piles on the mayhem and forgets the funny. Compared with last summer's DreamWorks smash "Kung Fu Panda," which really was funny, or even the second "Madagascar" outing, "Monsters vs. Aliens" is pure marketing without anything to market. To add insult to a paucity of jokes, the look of the picture is bright, cold and oddly flat, even when someone's whapping a paddleball right at your face to remind you that 3-D is supposed to count for something. (Late reminder: See "Coraline" if you want 3-D that counts for something.)
The directors are Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon, who directed "Shark Tale" and "Shrek 2," respectively. In other words, you're in good hands when it comes to jaded pop culture references. (Here, the riffs list includes "Dr. Strangelove," "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Apocalypse Now.") On the day she's to marry a smarmy TV weatherman (voiced by Paul Rudd), heroine Susan (Reese Witherspoon) gets creamed by a meteor. Presto: She's turned into a nearly 50-foot dame, no evildoer, but fearsome enough to intimidate the general populace.
For years, a la "Men in Black," the government has confined various monsters to a holding facility. The lineup includes B.O.B. (Rogen in full-on, entertaining stoner-slacker mode), a cockroach scientist (Hugh Laurie), the so-called Missing Link (Will Arnett) and a Mothra-style grubworm, Insectosaurus. Once Susan, renamed Ginormica by the U.S. government, gets to know her fellow monstrous cellmates, she realizes they're OK, just misunderstood - unlike the film's antagonist, space alien Gallaxhar (voice by Rainn Wilson), who deploys a bunch of alien robots to destroy the Golden Gate Bridge and move on from there. I didn't care for the Golden Gate Bridge scene; it settles for tone-deaf realism and conventional action beats. Although it's loud. And loud's probably good enough for the target audience.
It's tough to get on board with these monsters. They don't get the banter they - or we - deserve, and the screenwriters lean on wearying stereotypes such as the doltish military brass (Kiefer Sutherland growls away as General W.R. Monger) and the brainless, craven president voiced by Stephen Colbert (who may have ad-libbed much of his material, but not enough). Susan's transformation from trophy bride-to-be to empowered, independent female feels like feminism for kids of dummies. Witherspoon can be a terrific actress but has criminally little to play here. Only Rogen's merry gelatinous cretin comes to any sort of comic life. At one point he tries to make small talk with a plate of Jell-O. It's a pretty good gag. And in this bombastic context, it's a pretty lonely one.
MPAA rating: PG (for sci-fi action, some crude humor and mild language).
Running time: 1:34.
Starring: Reese Witherspoon (Susan); Seth Rogen (B.O.B.); Will Arnett (Missing Link); Stephen Colbert (the President); Kiefer Sutherland (Gen. W.R. Monger).
Directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon; written by Maya Forbes, Wally Wolodarsky, Letterman, Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger; produced by Lisa Stewart. A DreamWorks release.