The action in the new kids flick “Planet 51" takes place on an alternate-universe version of Earth where Shrek-green humanoids live out SoCal-accented happy days, complete with Googie architecture, white picket fences and Little Richard playing on the radio.
The big news among the populace is the premiere of “Humaniacs III,” the latest in a popular movie series about human invaders who “eat brains for dinner.”
So when American astronaut Chuck Baker (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) emerges from his lunar module, humming Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” the little green people freak out, fearing they’ll be turned into zombies. Chuck, expecting to claim a deserted planet for the U.S. of A, goes into hiding too.
Now, all he wants to do is phone home to Mission Control and get back to where he once belonged -- although where exactly Chuck belongs is never specified.
The debut of Madrid-based Ilion Animation Studios, “Planet 51" displays an almost criminal lack of curiosity about the small details that would bring its story to life. Instead, the bland, humor-free narrative focuses on the efforts of nerdy humanoid teen Lem (Justin Long) to believe in himself long enough to win the girl next door (Jessica Biel) and help Chuck escape.
It’s a missed opportunity. The premise is OK enough, even if it is like one of those old “Star Trek” episodes in which Kirk and crew would land on a planet whose culture was modeled on the Roman Empire or Chicago’s Gangland. Instead of spinning its spoof of 1950s sci-fi paranoia in new directions, the movie trades in potty humor and tired sendups of “The Terminator” and “Star Wars.”
If, as Chuck suggests, the ‘60s are about to take hold on Planet 51, we just hope someone writes a protest song about this movie.