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Bob Garver's review of "Monsters vs. Aliens"

March 31, 2009|By BOB GARVER / Special to The Herald-Mail

If ever I've seen a movie where the characters are designed to be toys that go with kids' meals at a fast food place, "Monsters vs. Aliens" is the one.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since it means all the characters are interesting, varied and unique. But it also means that the movie is going to spend the entire time trying to "sell" the characters to you. Also, at some point the characters are going to break dance. Kids love break dancing, apparently.

The main character is a woman named Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon). She's about to get married to a jerk reporter (Paul Rudd), but plans change when she gets hit by a meteorite and becomes 50 feet tall. Although Susan remains human, the government considers her a monster and she is whisked away to a secret government prison facility where she meets other monsters.

There's Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a mad scientist turned into a giant cockroach through a failed experiment. He eats garbage, which is hopefully a result of the same experiment. He's the smart one. Missing Link (Will Arnett) is a prehistoric beast who talks a big game but can't back it up. He's the "tough" one. B.O.B. (Seth Rogen) is a shape-shifting blob of goo. He doesn't have a brain, so he's the funny one. Rounding out the group is Insectosaurus, a 300-foot mutated grub. He's the cute one.

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Insectosaurus is big and furry. He'd make a good plush toy. The B.O.B. figure should be rubbery and maybe filled with corn syrup. Missing Link's action figure should have moveable arms and legs. Dr. Cockroach should have moveable antennae.

Susan looks perfectly normal except for her size, so she should be paired with something big, like a truck, that makes her look bigger by comparison. There's a scene where she jams her feet into cars and uses them like roller skates. Maybe her action figure should look like that.

The conflict with the aliens arises when Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) invades Earth. He's after the rare element that turned Susan huge. And while he's here, he wants to enslave humanity.

The U.S. president (Stephen Colbert) doesn't know what to do, so her turns to Gen. W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland) for help. Monger is in charge of the monsters' prison, and he strikes a deal with them: Save humanity and they earn their freedom.

It's a good thing the monsters want to save humanity, because freedom isn't natural for them. They aren't used to the real world, and don't know how to behave. And of course, people are afraid of them. This is especially tough for Susan since she basically loses all of her friends and her fianc doesn't want anything to do with her. Her family still loves her, but even they start acting strange and distant. Witherspoon does a great job of conveying Susan's struggle while staying almost wholly positive.

The all-star voice cast must have come with a huge price tag, and the results are mixed. Witherspoon is delightful, Laurie is hilariously maniacal, and Rogen gets a laugh out of every one of his lines. But Wilson is awkward in pronouncing all his strange alien dialogue, and Colbert voicing a president isn't nearly as funny as the idea of Colbert actually being president.

"Monsters vs. Aliens" has plenty of funny jokes, likeable characters and a healthy emphasis on determination and teamwork. It's a great choice for the family matinee crowd. Just don't expect it to go far beyond sugary entertainment and watch out for its constant commercial pandering.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu

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