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What Planet Are You From?  

Starring: Garry Shandling, Annette Bening, Camryn Manheim, Ben Kingsley, Greg Kinnear, Linda Fiorentino Directed by: Mike Nichols Written by: Peter Tolan, Garry Shandling, and Michael Lesson Rated R, for sexuality and language Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes Released by Sony Pictures

What Planet Are You From?
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"What Planet Are You From?" is a satire gone awry. At least, I think it's a satire gone awry. Maybe I should rephrase that - I hope it's a satire gone awry. Boy, I'd hate to think director Mike Nichols expected the audience to appreciate the merits of the storyline alone. My comments will operate under the assumption that the movie was intended as satire.

In order for a satirical comedy to really be effective, the target of the humor must be prevalent throughout the story. The worst thing that can happen to a satire is for it to be taken at face value. At its beginning, the movie looks like it wants to take shots at the dating complexities of today's men and women, but finishes up as a story about an alien trying to save his son from the evil galactic empire he is a part of.

Garry Shandling plays an alien given the name Harold Anderson and sent to earth on a mission to find a woman and impregnate her. What he discovers upon arrival is that impregnating a woman isn't as clinically easy as it seems from the far reaches of the universe - his particular situation will require courting and marrying... something his leader (Ben Kingsley) can't relate to. The object of his interplanetary affection is Susan (Annette Bening), a recovering alcoholic who is first repelled by this strange man's unusual advances, then subtly drawn in. Where is gets complicated is when she wants more love and affection rather than sexual stimulation. Love? Affection? Tenderness? Emotional support? These are concepts truly alien to the alien. Time is running out for Harold to complete his mission, as an FAA investigator (John Goodman) is hot on his trail, convinced he is not from this world.

I liked the setup, which showed a great deal of promise. (At the opening, we are witness to the aliens' training session. A hologram is used to simulate an earth woman where each man practices his "approach" - except the hologram is of a woman from the 1950's, before the women's movement really took shape. Being light-years away certainly has its disadvantages.) But soon the satirical shadow begins to dissipate, leaving nothing left but the story itself. The latter just isn't that interesting. The movie becomes... well, becomes alien. My laughter at the first ten minutes was replaced by a look of confusion. I ended up with a kink in my neck from viewing the film with a cocked head, trying to figure out what I was supposed to be enjoying here.

They had a good idea, I think. But the screenplay needed a few more rewrites before putting it to celluloid. A successful satire must know its target, then use its humor as bullets, piercing the red bull's-eye in feverish repetition. Of course, that's assuming this was supposed to be a satirical view in the first place. If not? Well, that's another viewpoint, one I just assume not get into.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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