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Old 03-30-2009, 03:26 PM
Rob Letterman's and Conrad Vernon's Monsters vs. Aliens

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

Standing in line to see "Watchmen" again on Friday night, I noticed that the theater was playing four screens of "Monsters vs. Aliens." Yikes, I thought. They must have some large expectations for it. Then I noticed that there were several kids in line, dragging their parents along to see it, so it's no surprise that it broke the 2009 opening record with around $58 million, previously held by "Watchmen" with around $55 million. Before finally seeing it today, I had read a couple of positive reviews and a couple negative reviews. Well, let's see who was right.

Susan Murphy (voice of Reese Witherspoon) is about to get married to Derek Dietl (Paul Rudd) when she is hit by a meteor right before the wedding. During the wedding, she grows into a giant, destroying the church and gets captured by the military. She is transported to a military base where she is locked away with other "monsters" including Dr. Cockroach (voice of Hugh Laurie), B.O.B. (voice of Seth Rogen), and The Missing Link (voice of Will Arnett). When an alien probe lands on Earth and starts attacking, the monsters are called upon to stop it. We learn that the probe has been sent by Gallaxhar, an alien who wants to reclaim the contents of the meteor. The monsters must use all their strength in an effort to stop Gallaxhar before the Earth is destroyed.

First off, I should mention that I did not see this in 3-d, and in a way, I'm glad I didn't. Roger Ebert has said in his review for this, and for other 3-d films, that it's nothing more than a distraction, and it certainly feels like it would be that way. With things flying off the screen, how are you supposed to concentrate on what's going on with the characters and the story? 3-d feels like it would take away from the experience of seeing a movie by turning it into a gimmick.

That being said, the 2-d version works just fine. There weren't as many laughs as I had hoped, but there were at least a few. Some of these jokes are obviously going to go right over the kids' heads, but at least Dreamworks is giving us grownups a reason to stick around. There is one scene where the President (voice of Stephen Colbert) is attempting to make contact with the alien probe by playing the familiar five-note medley from "Close Encounters," but then, for some reason, breaks out into the theme from "Beverly Hills Cop." The kids may know the music, but the parents get to chuckle at the actual references.

There are the obvious references to famous B-movies of the 50s like "Attack of the 50 ft. Woman" and "The Blob." I even got a small sense of "Dr. Strangelove" as the President and his men decide what to do in the War Room. Again, these are references that the kids probably won't get, but the monster characters that are referring to the originals are given interesting enough personalities to keep them entertained.

Aside from the adult jokes, there are jokes here for kids as well, though some of it is lowly bathroom humor. The action sequences are also well-done, as well as well-animated. These are the same people who brought us "Shrek," so I would expect nothing less from the animation. However, as far as the story goes, this is nowhere near the level that "Shrek" was.

It starts off well. The first two acts are really entertaining, and funnier than the final act. When it gets to this final act on Gallaxhar's spaceship though, the story felt like it slowed way down, and stopped being as funny as it had been. Perhaps this was just because aliens feel so cliched in movies nowadays, while monsters don't usually get much attention (it was the first two acts that concentrated on Susan becoming a monster, meeting the others, and teaming up with them to fight the probe). It still ends well, but there were certainly several opportunities to add more humor to it.

The voice acting was marvelous. Reese Witherspoon, who can be quite annoying sometimes, pulls off the role of Susan really well, giving her the right touch of emotion during the heavier parts of the film. Hugh Laurie never ceases to impress me. Ever since he fooled me way back when he first started playing House with a great American accent, only to shock me with his British accent on the Tonight Show, he has always caught my attention. Here, he provides the voice of Dr. Cockroach, using a British accent, but a somewhat higher voice pitch, and does a great job. The other voice of note comes from Keifer Sutherland who plays General W. R. Monger. Sutherland has that perfect deep, rough tone to pull off a voice like this. It was like Jack Bauer had become a hardened war veteran.

There is enough here to recommend it. The kids will be entertained by the silly monsters and action sequences, while the parents will find enough jokes for them to keep them happy. This is not as good as "Bolt" or "Kung Fu Panda" but it is good enough to add to the catalog of animated movies that both kids and adults can enjoy together. 3/4 stars.
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