What Planet Are You From?
- Reviewed by: David Trier
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Current Rating 6.13/10 | 75 Votes
In the far reaches of the universe exists a planet of humanoids so technologically advanced that the only conquest left is to take over the universe. Why not start with Earth? They reproduce only by cloning and therefore there are no women and the men no longer have sexual organs (I believe the technical term is "wee-wee's"). Having educated the population on the intricacies of the female human, the leader of the planet (Ben Kingsley) chooses their best candidate (Garry Shandling) to travel to Earth as banker, Harold Anderson, and impregnate a woman with his newly attached mechanical penis. His arrival on an airplane in mid-flight sparks the suspicion of a by-the-book investigator (John Goodman). A slimey co-worker at the bank (Greg Kinnear) takes Shandling out to meet women at an AA meeting where we're introduced to Annette Benning. When Shandling tells her he was "put on Earth to have a child" she falls in love with him. But she won't have sex with him unless they get married. So they do, but his inability to figure out why women say things in code and rely on emotion to solve their problems, not to mention the fact that his penis hums whenever he's aroused, gradually pushes him into the traps of being an Earth man - drinking, watching football, fighting, infidelity... Hilarity ensues. When the baby is born and the aliens steal it, Shandling must make some very "human" decisions.
Mike Nichols (The Graduate) directs this film simply and calmly as if it were a regular work of science fiction. Directed this way, the movie relies solely on the writing and the actors' comic timing. And it quite simply nails it. Garry Shandling's face, whenever it's on screen, just induces laughter in this movie. I really mean that as a compliment on his comic skills. His character is so likeable because he epitomizes the naievete of male thought. For example, when Benning throws the tv remote against the wall to get his attention, his first thought is to buy a new remote so you don't have to get up and down to change the channels. The most romantic line in the film is "I feel better when I'm with you." When she tells him that was nice he says, "I didn't say it to be nice. It's just a fact." Annette Benning gives another consistently brilliant performance in a way that suggests she doesn't even know she's in a comedy. Like Shandling's (only the opposite), her character epitomizes the often difficult and confusing state of being a woman. Greg Kinnear may play smug a little too often, but there's a clear reason for it (he's good at it). John Goodman is funny as always, but his character is probably the weakest of the lot with some poorly written motivations. Ben Kingsley, one of the great infallible actors, is probably too good to be playing the alien leader who is incapable of having emotion, but he delivers a perfect performance. But perhaps the greatest performance goes to the sound editors for making an often-present humming mechanical penis sound into a real character.
The movie is filled with little unexpected touches of honesty and integrity that don't pretentiously overshadow the silly penis humor. It manages to be "out-there" without being "outrageous" or spoofy like the super-hi-energy adolescent comedies that fill today's industry like Republicrats fill the ballots. There isn't a laugh in every shot or even a surprise after every scene, but instead the moments are carefully chosen. The story is reasonably predictable and the ending is wrapped up neatly and with much ease. Maybe too much. Like all comedies, whether or not you "get it" is going to be based on your personal experiences and your preferences in comic style. It's arguably worth mentioning that it was not appreciated by critics and did not do well at the box office. But enough disclaimer (for if you rent it and hate it). Let's not miss the point. It might not be Citizen Cane, but it's a feature length smile and I loved it.
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