Shandling's Bawdy Alien Humor Subtitles Well"What Planet Are You From?" seems like the movie version of John Gray's popular book "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus," and emphasizes how the two sexes are worlds apart in thinking. No one plays a befuddled space cadet better than Garry Shandling, who is placed in the classic role of bildungsroman, in which the hero undergoes some sort of spiritual or personal growth. Similar in story line to "What Women Want," Mike Nichols's "What Planet Are You From?" perhaps doesn't probe as deeply into the female psyche as the former, but is still filled with just as much laughter and a lot more one-liners from comedian Garry Shandling. Unabashedly silly and at times bawdy, Shandling and Annette Bening create a chemistry that allows for a warm undertone of cute throughout this quirky movie.
The year is 2999 and planet Earth seems pretty much unchanged, with people still driving the same cars (strangely Volkswagon Beetles are still in vogue) and doing the same everyday tasks. However, this is also the year that a supreme race of men, four solar systems and three generations away, have decided to impregnate the females of Earth in order to infiltrate the population from the "inside." This highly evolved species of man is identical to males on Earth in every way, with the exception of sexual organs. As you might suspect, the men on this planet reproduce asexually and there are no women to be found. As such, the aliens go through intensive training workshops to learn the ways of the female species and become irresistible.
Harold Anderson (Shandling) is the debonair who excels above the other males of his planet and is sent as a guinea pig on the first mission to Earth. Upon arrival he discovers that the training simulation programs were useless and that womankind is much more difficult to understand than foreseen. Despite a slew of pick-up lines, "I'm crazy about you baby, come to bed with me," he notices that females on Earth find him slightly unnerving because he emits a loud humming sound from his crotch when aroused. After a sling of unsuccessful one-night stands he falls victim to mating rituals and ends up marrying Susan (Bening).
As a stand-up comedian, Shandling's trademark boyish charm has always allowed him to be precocious no matter how raunchy his material. Never one to laugh outright at his own jokes, he keeps a poker face and pretends to be a little slow on the uptake, giving the feeling that he's not really in on the joke. In reality, he is a comic genius who profoundly understands how to turn the ordinary into the laughable with mock surprise expressions.
Despite serious roles in the past, Annette Bening is extremely witty and has a flair for the off-beat. Playing a slightly flakey recovering alcoholic in her second space movie (the first was "Mars Attacks,") she is the hapless victim that marries Harold. Greg Kinnear also gives a laudable performance as the morally challenged co-worker who helps Harold "make the rounds," scouting for women anywhere from bars to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
The local Korean audience in particular will enjoy this farce because the humor is easily translated by the subtitles and not hindered by American slang. It was nice to hear native and non-native speakers alike laughing at the same punch lines and at the same time for once, which was no doubt facilitated by the simplicity of the film. Though modest in its production and rudimentary in content, the movie is all the while entertaining and unpredictable.
by Joseph Kim