Monsters vs. Aliens

Monsters vs. Aliens | rated PG | Animated, starring the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Will Arnet, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Colbert, Rainn Wilson, Paul Rudd | 1:34 mins

When a meteor crashes to Earth, it’s extraterrestrial material causes engaged Susan (VO Reese Witherspoon) to grow to a 50 foot woman. Susan is quarantined by the government along with several other mutant creations collected over the years including the missing link (Will Arnet), the Blob, named BOB (Seth Rogen), a half-man/half-cockroach (Hugh Laurie) and a giant monster named Insectosaurus. Soon the group is tapped to take on an alien threat when a giant robot threatens the world lead by an alien (Rainn Wilson) seeking the Quantonium now inside Susan.

For better or worse, this movie made me wonder what it might be like if Pixar stepped away from the human drama and fairy tales for a second and made a movie about, well, movies. Until then we have Monsters vs. Aliens from PDI/Dreamworks, an animated ode to 50’s monster movies and while it suffers from the same nonsense that is forced upon most all Dreamworks animation, its focus on action and oddities puts it ahead of most of them. The premise is an imaginative cobbling together of cinematic oddities, a license to print imaginative maddness. Attack of the 50 Woman, The Fly, The Blob, Creature from the Black Lagoon and every alien invasion movie provide ingrediants for this cocktail. The movie turns them into a rag-tag X-Men team and delivers exactly what the title promises. Monsters vs. aliens. I adore the premise of the film and the movie is kept at a lightening bolt pace, only dishing out plot points when they need to be known, not laboring on any exposition or false emotion. That speed and lack of pretention makes it all the more easily digestible. Otherwise, these are characters I didn’t want to spend time with much longer.

But Dreamworks cannot help themselves. In the face of a premise that shows limitless creative potential the movie is dragged back by the studio’s usual brand of comedy that focuses on one-liners “for the adults” so random and out of place they stick out of the picture like a sore thumb. Forced references to Axel F, An Inconvenient Truth and the usual toilet humor (change the terror alert level to code brown) draw cringes. Also pulling me out of the fun was Dreamworks’ pension for celebrity voice casting. Always obnoxiously trying to be too cool for the room, they pilfer the casting rosters of Judd Apatow, The Office, Saturday Night Live and others in an attempt to piggyback on the cult followings of others.

The movie’s biggest asset is movement. It is action-packed, keeping us breathlessly along for the ride. A mid-movie set-piece in downtown San Francisco is terrific, bg summer movie fun. As a family film, it’s harmless, and might even serve as a nice introduction to the movies that inspired it. As an homage, Dreamworks allows the movie to stay lazily withing the 50s monster movie parameter instead of using it as a springboard for anything really new and exciting (as I suspect Pixar could do). In the end it feels like potential wasted, cutting the impact of each undeniably well constructed action scene with a bad one-liner. This includes an ending that hits the floor with a loud thud at the worst possible moment. You’ll feel bad in the morning, but while it’s on, the empty calorie Monster vs. Aliens is a fast, fun watch.

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