5 March 2000 | draftyrafters
PLANET is in a world of its own
Garry Shandling is an unattractive man who looks as if he is suffering from a perpetual state of constipation, and, can you believe it?, he still manages to be enjoyable (and even loveable, of all things) in his latest movie, What Planet Are You From? Despite a clunky title and an unlikely leading man (even Shandling himself seems stunned by the reality of it), this movie manages to just barely pull off a decent performance.
The premise seems much more suited to an hour and a half of repetitive penis jokes (and, in some ways, it gets close to that): Shandling plays Harold Anderson, an alien from a planet inhabited by impotent, super-intelligent men bent on universal domination. Led by a stiff-lipped Ben Kingsley (whose neck seems to have disappeared) this race of uber-men has lost all semblances of emotion, let alone sexuality. In their quest for universal rulership, they have chosen Earth as their next target. Their goal? To impregnate a human woman and begin populating the world with "their kind."
Of the millions of available aliens, Shandling is chosen as their ambassador, and after being fitted with an artificial and somewhat dysfunctional penis (it hums when erect), he travels to Earth in a glowing white ball and immediately begins incorporating the lessons he learned about the delicate art of female seduction. For instance, he has an endless bevy of "nice footwear" and "nice perfume" remarks, including some slang: "Kitty likes to scratch!"
Sounds like a one-hour one-liner, huh?
Fortunately, it's not. It's safe to say the movie would have fallen flat on its alien face if it weren't for the stellar performance of Annette Benning as the one woman who finally falls for the bumbling alien's "charms." She manages to take this ludicrous premise and bring a touching dose of reality to it, giving a normally crass idea a glimmer of merit. She is what diversifies Shandling's occasionally monotonous character, and it is through her eyes that the film sheds its hokiness and becomes a real movie.
Co-stars John Goodman and Greg Kinnear, to their credit, do a great job as well, both of them displaying an untypical amount of restraint. As far-fetched as it seems, it is the undertones and quiet moments in this film that render it watchable. Likewise, those moments are what keep the joke from getting old. Director Mike Nichols (who gave us such gems as Catch-22 and The Graduate) has combined the quiet soul of his Regarding Henry with the flamboyant ditziness of his The Birdcage to come up with something truly remarkable: a Garry Shandling movie that works.
It certainly has its flaws, like most flicks, and many times the plot seems to stop and start just like Harold's malfunctioning member. However, although the jokes reach levels the man from Nantucket would be proud of, they mostly act as reminders that, no matter how much we poke fun at sex and marriage, most of the jokes are true. What Planet Are You From? has its out-there moments, but it still hits close to home.