28 February 2000 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Given the caliber of talent involved, expectations run reasonably high for "What Planet Are You From?" -- the comic battle of the sexes directed by Mike Nichols and co-written by Garry Shandling.

But while the picture certainly seems very pleased with itself, it's a frustratingly one-note underachiever, succeeding neither as sharply observed satire nor raunchy sex farce.

There are definitely amusing moments to be found here, but there are more missed opportunities when it comes to mining something more astute than its tired take on the fundamental differences between men and women.

Columbia Pictures' aggressive marketing push could pay off in some solid opening business, but ultimately the film, unlike alien Shandling's humming private parts, will generate just a moderate buzz.

The story begins on H1449-6's (Shandling) planet. The alien planet is located four solar systems and several generations away from Earth. It's a highly evolved place, except for the fact that there are no women, and its empire-building ruler Graydon (Ben Kingsley) needs to propagate his adult male race.

Handed the more Earthling-friendly moniker of Harold Anderson, Shandling is chosen to find a woman and impregnate her, but not before being schooled in the art of the human mating dance and outfitted with highly mechanized genitals.

Harold quickly discovers that his crude but sincere pickup lines need about as much overhauling as his defective sexual apparatus, which sounds like a turbine engine starting up every time he becomes aroused.

While he doesn't get much assistance in the finesse department from womanizing colleague Perry Gordon (Greg Kinnear), he finally finds hope in the person of Susan (Annette Bening), a recovering alcoholic who ultimately agrees to Harold's baby-making request provided they first get married.

Meanwhile, an obsessed FAA agent (John Goodman) investigating a series of mysterious airline turbulence occurrences has picked up Harold's alien scent and is moving in quickly.

When "What Planet Are You From?" is at its best, as it is whenever alien-busting Goodman is on screen, there's a whimsical Woody Allen tone to the proceedings similar to "Sleeper" and "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex." For the most part, however, there's an prevailing smugness that carries over to the patronizingly crowd-pleasing happy ending.

And while Nichols and Shandling (along with the other three writers credited for the screenplay) are enjoying themselves, the cold, hard truth is that, pump it as they may, a buzzing penis bit will only take you so far.

Fuller advantage could have also been taken of the comedically adept cast. Although Goodman has one of the funniest scenes in the movie facing off against Kingsley, Bening is essentially playing a benign version of her "American Beauty" character (when asked what she does for a living, her reply that she's a real estate agent receives chuckles from knowing viewers). Kinnear's smarmy player, meanwhile, has nowhere to go. Even Shandling's shrugging bemusement schtick works better on the small screen.

Similarly wasted are Camryn Manheim, Nora Dunn and Ann Cusack, who play that most tired of contemporary comedy conventions -- the heroine's trio of best friends, a k a the female Greek chorus who dispense not-so-witty worldly wisdom about life and love.



A Brad Grey/Bernie Brillstein production

A Mike Nichols film

Producers:Mike Nichols, Garry Shandling and Neil Machlis

Director:Mike Nichols

Screenwriters:Garry Shandling & Michael Leeson and Ed Solomon and Peter Tolan

Story:Garry Shandling & Michael Leeson

Executive producers:Brad Grey, Bernie Brillstein

Director of photography:Michael Ballhaus

Production designer:Bo Welch

Editor:Richard Marks

Costume designer:Ann Roth

Music:Carter Burwell

Casting:Ellen Lewis



Harold Anderson:Garry Shandling

Susan Hart:Annette Bening

Perry Gordon:Greg Kinnear

Graydon:Ben Kingsley

Helen Gordon:Linda Fiorentino

Roland Jones:John Goodman

Nadine Jones:Caroline Aaron

Rebecca:Judy Greer

Cheryl:Anastasia Sakelaris

Alison:Camryn Manheim

Madeline:Nora Dunn

Liz:Ann Cusack

Running time -- 100 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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