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February 16, 2013 | 12:10 p.m. CST
The biggest laughs during Escape from Planet Earth came from a running gag in which a character steps on a rake and gets whopped in the head with the handle — and all those laughs came from children.
That says a lot about the quality of the movie’s jokes. Although it offers some heart and cool visuals, Escape from Planet Earth suffers from lazy writing that draws more yawns and cringes than laughs.
You would expect better lines from a character who the movie reminds you over and over again is a supergenius. With the typical alien’s wispy body and giant head, Gary Supernova (Rob Corddry) is a nerd who directs spaceships from a computer console while his muscular brother, Scorch (Brendan Fraser), pulls off daring rescues on exotic planets. To maintain his star status (and his corporate sponsorships), Scorch decides to explore the most dangerous planet of all — Earth. After landing somewhere in the southwestern United States, he hardly has time to gape at the beauty of a 7/11 before the evil General Shanker (William Shatner) snatches him up. Scorch becomes the newest member of a group of aliens the U.S. government has enslaved to build a horrible weapon that could wipe out the galaxy.
Who will rescue him? His wimpy brother Gary, of course.
Escape from Planet Earth tastes like a watered-down Pixar movie. There are few surprises in the plot, and the dialogue has little to offer adults, relying on slapstick, lazy banter and pop culture references. The extraterrestrial cast offers a cynical perspective on human nature but lacks the wit to express it well.
Most of the characters exist to spout off dull one-liners, but there are some sweet moments between Gary, Scorch and Gary’s son, Kip (Jonathan Morgan Heit), who has to learn to admire his father’s understated brand of heroism. The computer-animated visuals of their native Planet Baab, which is as colorful and bouncy as its name suggests, were also enjoyable.
It’s disappointing to see a halfhearted movie about aliens and space travel, which make up some of humanity’s most powerful and noble dreams. Escape from Planet Earth might make for a somewhat enjoyable evening with your children, but you might enjoy another viewing of Wall-E more.