December 11, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Take it from me - aliens just don't understand

Grade: D

Director: Scott Derrickson

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, and Jaden Smith

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

Although The Day the Earth Stood Still is a remake of Robert Wise’s 1951 Cold War-era sci-fi classic, it is more a summation of two prominent themes doting the 2008 filmscape: The eco-dread that fueled tent-poles like Wall-E and Quantum of Solace, and the secondary miscegenation conceit found in films as wide-ranging as AustraliaLakeview TerraceHancock, and Madagascar 2. This go around, instead of waging war against mankind’s penchant for self-destruction via nuclear weaponry, alien emissary Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) and his metallic bodyguard Gort visit Earth to wage war against mankind’s penchant for self-destruction via global warming. Along the way, Klaatu befriends widow Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly, perfectly cast since her affect resembles that of a pod person) and her obnoxious stepson (Will’s son Jaden Smith), who must race to save the world from some really bad CGI.

The entire spectacle could be easily confused with some ghastly, Roland Emmerich-produced hybrid of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow more skilled – and designed – at product placement than plot development. For example, when Klaatu brings a police officer back to life mere minutes after declaring that mankind’s full-scale extermination is imminent and unavoidable, the illogic is so rank that even the script feels compelled to acknowledge it. Director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) lumbers from one dull, inconsequential scene after another, alternating between Reeves and Connelly staring glumly at each other and the military/government movie archetypes trying to figure out how to gut Gort, including an embarrassed (at least I hope so) Kathy Bates slumming as the obligatory feckless Secretary of Defense.

Klaatu’s omnipotent alien overseers fill a space ark full of animals in preparation for some Old Testament-style housecleaning that eventually comes in the form of a plague of robotic locusts. Meanwhile, Reeves again assumes the messianic Neo role, this time as a part-human demigod who, over the course of the film, raises the dead, walks on water, and sacrifices his physical life to save man from his sins. Maybe this explains why a purported blockbuster like The Day the Earth Stood Still is being released into theaters during Christmastime instead of the summer movie season. Either way, it is a big lump of coal.

Neil Morris

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