"Escape From Planet Earth" an amiable adventure

Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2013, 9:22 am
Comment on this story | Print this story | Email this story
By Sheri Linden

"Escape From Planet Earth" — an animated adventure that's more down-to-earth than earth-shattering — builds a family-friendly sci-fi constellation out of fresh chuckles and recycled parts, a number of them from Planet Pixar.

Feel-good but not cloying, zippy but not frenetic, and refreshingly free of snark, the default setting for a lot of kids' fare these days, the feature takes a pleasingly retro-futuristic stance on matters of décor and attitude.

Fueling the ride is an outstanding voice cast that includes Rob Corddry, Brendan Fraser, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sofia Vergara and, in irresistibly hammy villain mode, William Shatner. Ricky Gervais is on hand, too, as a flippant descendant of HAL 9000. For grown-ups with little ones, it's a painless entertainment with a fair share of laughs.

The film slipped into theaters last week, without advance screenings for press, in both 2-D and 3-D versions; the extra dimension is serviceable but hardly crucial.

Directed by storyboard artist-turned-helmer Callan Brunker from a screenplay he co-wrote with Bob Barlen, the movie takes a while to hit its stride. At the core is a classic case of brotherly love posing as sibling rivalry.

On Planet Baab, where blue-skinned people have expressive eyes, two high achievers are bent on out-achieving each other: astronaut Scorch Supernova (Fraser), a fearless self-promoter with more than a touch of Buzz Lightyear in his action-hero makeup, and his older but smaller brother, Mission Control engineer Gary (Corddry), who's married to a former test pilot (Parker). Gary's son — a cutie of a hero in his own right voiced by Jonathan Morgan Heit — idolizes Scorch but will, of course, learn that his geeky dad is just as cool.

The brothers' conflict moves to the Dark Planet, a place otherwise known as Earth, after their spiteful boss (Jessica Alba) concocts a seemingly doomed mission. The filmmakers use the terrestrial setting — specifically, the American desert — for glancing commentary on human folly amid the pop-culture nostalgia.

A couple of scenes at a 7-Eleven transcend product placement, using retail iconography for giggles, while two goofballs (Steve Zahn and Chris Parnell) make friendly contact with the visitors.

Less friendly are the Supernovas' encounters at Area 51, the movie's most innovative ploy. In keeping with the military base's legendary status among conspiracy theorists, it serves as HQ for Shatner's evil general, a megalomaniac who has incarcerated the smartest geeks in the universe. As three of the alien geniuses, George Lopez, Jane Lynch and a scene-stealing Craig Robinson make the prison-movie setup shine.

It never discovers new worlds, but "Escape From Planet Earth" is, in its genial way, escape enough.


MPAA rating: PG for action and some mild humor
Length: 89 minutes.
Rating: Three stars.


Local events heading

  Today is Saturday, Sept. 20, the 263rd day of 2014. There are 102 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: Recruits can get $500 by enlisting now. Lt Jobe has a recruiting office on Illinois Street.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Superintendent Schnitger formally inaugurated the Rock Island and Davenport Railway Line of the Holmes system by putting on four cars to start.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Wires of the defunct Union Electric Co. are being removed by city electricians.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The Bishop Hill softball team won the championship in WHB"S Mississippi Valley tournament at Douglas Park.
1964 -- 50 years ago: A boom in apartment construction has hit Rock Island, with approximately 300 units either in or near the construction stage or due for an early rezoning decision.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Members of the Bi-State Metropolitan Planning Commission are hoping to revive their push for a new $70 million four-lane bridge spanning the Mississippi River.

(More History)