5 March 2001 | Movie-12
So stupid its funny; effective if your sense of humor applies. *** (out of four)
WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM? / (2000) *** (out of four)
By Blake French:
Mike Nichols' "What Planet Are You From?" is one of the most honest comedies I can remember-and it is a funny one, too. The script features distorted stereotypes dealing with human relationships. Men are only interested in sex with women, you say? Women want emotional support from men, so I hear? This film examines those concepts in such a unique and straightforward fashion even several technical flaws fail to interrupt the creative flow of colorful ideas.
Sex is the topic in "What Planet Are You From?" but what it truly gets at is the differences of female and male relationship perspectives. Gary Shandling stars as an alien called H1449, who lives with an all-male race on a distant, technologically advanced planet. The race reproduces by cloning only, and because the men never use their sex organs, they have shrunk and disappeared. The leader of the planet, Graydon (Ben Kingsley), plans to take over the entire universe, targeting Earth next. Taking over the planet from the inside is his strategy. After extensive training and dispensed with a penis, H1449 is sent to Earth to breed with a woman.
H1449 disguises himself as a home and commercial loan officer named Harold Anderson. His first and foremost mission is to impregnate the first available woman, the problem is that his targets are scared of the humming sound that comes from his penis, in correlation with his state of arousal. He does manage to bed a few easy women, including a flight attendant and a strip club dancer. After meeting his adulterous coworker, Perry (Greg Kinnear), and becoming a candidate for a big promotion, his mission becomes more and more unimportant.
Harold soon meets Susan Hart (Annette Bening), a recovering alcoholic/real estate agent putting her life back together. Her biological clock is ticking, so she finds herself marrying Harold after learning about his desires to have a child. Under great pressure from Graydon and an FAA agent (John Goodman), who is set on proving Harold is an alien, the confused H1449 must not only focus on his demanding mission, but also with his new Earthly duties and emotionally needy wife.
It's fun watching Harold realize the emotions of being human; when he experiences feelings like anger, jealousy, sadness, and sympathy, we feel oddly touched. There are a few funny moments from the hilariously frank sexual gestures. With nonstop sexual innuendoes and extremely blunt material, the dialogue is irresistible. The vibrating penis gag has potential, but it is not fully explored. "What Planet Are You From?" has a lot of laughs, but could have had a lot more fun with its plot elements.
I really liked the performance by Gary Shandling. His calm, confused state of mind makes for a light-hearted sense of humor. He often provides the film with hilarious moments, with simple, frank facial expressions. Annette Bening provides the story with a comical charm fitting for the role. The supporting cast is top notch even to minor roles. Such small but effective performances come from Nora Dunn ("Three Kings"), Janeane Garofalo ("Clay Pigeons," "The Matchmaker"), Judy Greer ("Jawbreaker") and Linda Fiorentino ("Men in Black," "Dogma").
Mike Nichols has made better movies, such "The Graduate," "The Birdcage," "Primary Colors" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" "What Planet Are You From?" is by far his silliest production, and I am actually a bit surprised to see him involved with this kind of movie. It is downright stupid at times-just plain dumb. But it is a funny stupid. The story evokes laughs from its utter foolishness. I enjoyed the film-not a lot-but it often connected with my unusual sense of humor. If you like this kind of offensive, perverse, and superficial buffoonery, and you know who you are, you might just find yourself having a ball with "What Planet Are You From?"