by HELEN GEIB
The five monsters of DreamWorks’ new animated film Monsters vs. Aliens are refugees from low-budget 1950s science fiction movies. There is Susan, a 50 or so foot tall woman who was normal before she was clobbered by a radioactive meteorite on her wedding day. Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D., a formerly human mad scientist who experimented on himself and wound up with a cockroach’s head. Link (as in “The Missing”), a creature from a black lagoon thawed out from a block of polar ice. B.O.B., a blob. And finally Insectosaurus, a gigantic insect from a Pacific island nuclear test site.
The monsters are released from captivity in a secret government detention facility to save the earth from a rampaging alien invader, and Susan discovers it’s not so bad being gigantic if it means you can save your friends from being killed by a megalomaniac squid. That’s pretty much it in the way of plot and character development.
The 90 minute running time is instead filled out with innumerable pointless, senseless, and shallow pop culture references. The characters, situations, artwork, and dialogue are all deeply referential. Monsters vs. Aliens enthusiastically wallows in its lack of originality.
Children will “get” very few of the references. Adults will recognize them without enjoying them. When the comedy is not referential – and frequently when it is – it is usually mean-spirited. The rest of the time it is crude. The filmmakers may be relied upon to take the cheap shot and the easy way out.
The voracious appetite of the “family-friendly” film audience will almost certainly make Monsters vs. Aliens a hit, if not a smash. Regardless of its commercial showing, it will not be fondly remembered. The film lacks wit, charm, and energy.
There are four or five mildly amusing moments; most come courtesy of Dr. Cockroach, well-voiced by Hugh Laurie. Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson, and Stephen Colbert are variously forgettable and grating in the other principal roles. The film was co-directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon; the screenplay was co-written by five people from a story by Letterman and Vernon.
I saw Monsters vs. Aliens in 2-D because I did not want to pay the $3.50 premium for the 3-D screening. (The theater I attended opened the film on two screens in 2-D and one in 3-D.) Perhaps the animation impresses in 3-D; it is routine in 2-D. While I cannot say whether the animation is enough improved to justify the extra charge, I can say without hesitation that the underlying film was not worth the price I paid for my super-bargain first matinee of the day ticket.