With that gigantic green ogre who has Pixar executives waking up in the middle of the night in sweats again conspicuous by his absence this year, it’s left to this homage heavy throwback to the golden age of science fiction cinema to bolster that all-important bottom line. With an eclectic voice cast so glittering its ridiculous directors Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon, who between them have coughed up Shrek 2 and Shark Tale, bring us a deliciously zany 3D extravaganza where the bright and bubbly animation just about manage to make up for a somewhat underwhelming story.

Reese Witherspoon voices valley girl Susan, a blushing bubblegum bride set to marry egotistical weatherman, Derek, whose big day gets even bigger when a meteorite filled with gelatinous goo lands on her head, causing her to grow to immense size and proportion. Whisked away by Kiefer Sutherland’s hard-nosed, deliciously named General W.R. Monger to a secret government facility she finds herself face to face with all manner of freaks and mutants (Dr. Cockroach, B.O.B, Insectasauraus, The Missing Link) who have been squirreled away for tests and experiments. Chasing the aforementioned goo, Rainn Wilson’s Gallaxhar and his alien armada show up to annihilate Earth and take possession of its power, so the government unleashes Susan and her cohorts as our last, best hope for salvation.

As a kid there is much to enjoy here. The action is fast and furious, the animation bright and colorful and our heroes are entirely playful and some of the least threatening “monsters” ever conceived. As an adult it depends largely on your familiarity with and affection for old-style science fiction and B-movie madness, because it’s all here; Susan is of course the 50-foot woman, Seth Rogan’s B.O.B is the blob, The Missing Link is The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Insectasaurus is Mothra, and Dr. Cockroach is clearly modeled on The Fly. There are also riffs on The Day the Earth Stood Still, Independence Day, Godzilla, and Earth’s defense is amusingly (mis)managed from inside a gigantic war room right out of Dr. Strangelove.

Sadly having assembled all these great elements, the committee of writers don’t appear to know how to capitalize on them and the result is an awkward mismash of ideas that don’t entirely fit together. In shaving the edges off the story for the sake of the junior dollar they’ve taken one of the prototypical archetypes of feminist cinema and turned her into a bit of a cupcake. Retaining all the sharpness of a balloon she simply wants to marry her man, and it’s a dull and lifeless quest that regularly interrupts what little momentum manifests because for a film running at slightly over 90 minutes, it takes an inordinate amount of time to get going.

Rather than actual jokes the primary gag seems to be that the cast are basically playing various caricatures of their well-established screen personas. Stephen Colbert as the president is essentially Stephen Colbert. Will Arnett is a jock, Seth Rogen’s an idiot, and Hugh Laurie is a mad professor. Rainn Wilson is snidely superior and much like Kiefer Sutherland, who appears to be channeling George C. Scott’s Buck Turgidson, elevates the movie whenever he is on screen.

 

The thing is while its loud and lively, very little actually happens before Gallaxhar’s probe robot shows up and once it does the blistering chase through the streets of San Francisco (cars for roller skates) followed by a frantic showdown on the golden Gate Bridge then gives way to more quiet moping which just eats away at your interest level. Only when Gallaxher actually arrives in person and the action is transposed to the mother ship does the film really realize its potential and unleash the mayhem with a series of blisteringly funny and imaginative set pieces. Sadly by then there is only about twenty minutes left. While it’s hard not to appreciate a story with a heart as big as this one, with themes of alienation, friendship, and redemption, you can’t help but feel they would have better served the film if they had simply concentrated more on just being silly.

Voices: Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland, Riann Wilson, Stephen Colbert

Director: Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon

Runtime: 94 Minutes

Distributor: DreamWorks

Rating: PG

 

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