"Escape From Planet Earth" an amiable adventure

Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2013, 9:22 am
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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 Monday, Sept. 1, the 244th day of 2014. There are 121 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: We are informed by J.H. Hull that the reason the street sprinkler was not at work yesterday settling the dust on the streets, was because one of his horses was injured.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Bonnie McGregor, a fleet-footed stallion owned by S.W. Wheelock of this community, covered himself with glory at Lexington, Ky, when he ran a mile in 2:13 1/2. The horse's value was estimated as at least $50,000.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Troops are pouring into Paris to prepare for defense of the city. The German army is reported to be only 60 miles from the capital of France.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The German army has invaded Poland in undeclared warfare. Poland has appealed to Great Britain and France for aid.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Publication of a plant newspaper, the Farmall Works News, has been launched at the Rock Island IHC factory and replaces a managerial newsletter.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Officials predict Monday's Rock Island Labor Parade will be the biggest and best ever. Last minute work continues on floats and costumes for the parade, which steps off a 9:30 a.m.

(More History)