Planet 51 (2009)

Rating: C

Dir: Jorge Blanco
Star [voice]: Justin Long, Dwayne Johnson, Gary Oldman, Jessica Biel

At $70m, it’s the most expensive movie ever to come out of Spain – and when I think of some of the good movies from there, made for a fraction of the cost, this feels like a big waste of money. Earth astronaut Chuck Baker (Johnson) lands on what’s supposed to be an uninhabited planet, only to find it is very inhabited, with a culture resembling a green-skinned version of late 50’s Earth. The local population is terrified of him, except for Lem (Long), who resists the paranoia and tries to help Baker get back to his ship, before the orbiting command module automatically returns to Earth.

That does not sit too well with General Grawl (Oldman), who is paranoid of an alien invasion, and is convinced Chuck is using mind-control skills to enslave the population. Meanwhile, Lem also has to pluck up the courage to ask out his dream-girl (Biel) before she falls for the local hippie [hang on – I though this was the fifties? Oh, well…] Any pleasures to be obtained here are entirely on the periphery. There’s the Wall-Eesque robot, obsessed with rocks, that preceded Baker to the planet, and the local ‘canine’, which looks like a certain monster, with an interesting twist or two on its attributes.

Those provide far more entertainment than the complete blandness at the characters at the centre of the film, with Long and Johnson delivering performances that are supremely forgettable – even Oldman, who delivered some of the most memorable villainous performances ever, is barely recognizable. The animation is hardly impressive, and the script largely fails to mine the comic potential inherent in this reversed “fish out of water” scenario. This might be because its a Spanish production aimed at the international market, and seems intent on playing it very safe with cultural references, opting instead of generic blandness. The result is cinematic milk-pudding; if there’s not much to which you can specifically object, it’s nothing you’ll want to consume again.