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Weekly Alibi What Planet Are You From?

Women are from Venus, Filmmakers are from Mars

By Os Davis

MARCH 6, 2000:  No, no, no. The key question here is "What Planet is this Movie's Creative Team From?" Perhaps these guys have, in fact, invaded from the same planet depicted in their flick, an orb populated solely by cloned males whose "reproductive organs have shrunk." After all, What Planet Are You From? shamelessly displays wit only slightly greater evolved than a Bud-hungover Rams fan on Super Monday; the script requires the likes of Ben Kingsley to deliver dialogue mostly ending in "penis." (Laugh when you read it; the word itself passes as joke in this celluloid tripe.)

Said clones, the Lucas-like scrolling exposition informs us, "want to rule the Universe." Their diabolical plan, straight out of Edward D. Wood, Jr. flicks and Cold War propaganda, is to fit one citizen with a penis (ha ha!), have him "get a woman pregnant, wait for the baby and return." A modicum of education and one now- obligatory reference to Roswell later, and the imminent invasion of Earth has begun "from the inside." (Wait a minute: Was that a joke?)

Vaguely alien-looking H1149-46 (Garry Shandling) is chosen to pose as Harold Anderson of Seattle. In contrast, Shandling has given himself an imperative even more impossible to fulfill: to somehow make this flaccid film palatable against the odds. Here's poor Harold, graced with an unfunny name, living in the unfunny city of Phoenix and saddled with the unfunny occupation of banking. (Even Jim Carrey played the banker bit straight in The Mask, for Kirk's sake!) To top it off, Lionel Richie makes the soundtrack, and there isn't a damn funny thing about that.

Harold and his Leader (Kingsley) arrive on Earth through an airplane bathroom, clearly necessitated by advanced technology and humor homo sapiens don't understand. What Planet Are You From? is punctuated with dialogues based in this setting; when the Leader wishes to return home, he has to -- ready for this? -- flush himself down the toilet! (Next time, just beam him up, all right, Scotty?) Harold finds, upon early contact with the female of our species, that his penis (ho ho ho!) has an embarrassing problem: arousal and erection are accompanied by a sound halfway between electric razor and light-saber. Imagine the auditory possibilities as this gag is milked a million times, with Shandling playing second banana to his bone.

The Love Interest -- oh, yes, the alien finds Love -- comes in the form of Annette Bening's performance faxed in for beer money. Meeting at an AA meeting (really unfunny), Harold is enthralled by the two-month-sober Susan given to insipid ramblings about "this whole changing thing" and unfortunate renditions of "High Hopes." This woman, thanks to dead character interpretation, doesn't change moods: She changes hairstyles.

Banker Harold, again not so much interacting with humans as listening to their inanities, tries to make sense of Machiavellian and chauvinistic colleague Perry (Greg Kinnear). Underdeveloped reflections on unhappy marriage are symbolized through Perry's wife Helen (Linda Fiorentino -- hey, she's Jay and Silent Bob's girl!), sporting a voice and manner so sultry she'll melt popcorn butter inside her pathetically short six scenes.

Hot on Harold's trail is Mr. Jones (John Goodman), an FAA investigator (need it be said again?) who inexplicably deduces the alien's existence on our sphere. He knows, too, that E.T.s possess hydraulic penises (whoo hoo hoo -- stop, please, I can't take any more!), therefore giving Jones an excuse to heft his considerable bulk into awkward Peeping Tom spots.

Amidst this dearth of originality, What Planet Are You From? brings a sole bright minute to give hope for the otherwise extremely droll Shandling's cinematic future. Some interminable two-thirds through, Garry finally gets gregarious and hurls an alien monologue in the finest tradition laid forth by Smilin' Jack Nicholson way back in Easy Rider. Like this flick's remainder, however, it caps with a thud; a drunk woman's head hits bartop, and all who laugh have apparently forgotten that, through the character of Susan, alcoholism isn't actually supposed to be funny.

Perhaps translating this script from the original Gallifreyan proved ponderous for Shandling and company; otherwise the mysterious green light given its production shows a distinctly otherworldly origin. And ol' Garry always looked so human. ... Well, sort of. Maybe if you squint just right.

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