Thursday, March 26, 2009

"Monsters vs. Aliens'' is stuffed to the gills

Forget the 49-foot woman in "Monsters vs. Aliens." Actually she's an inch shy of 50 feet tall.

One of the fiercest women I've known was my paternal grandmother, and she barely broke 5-feet. If anyone wants to do an animated feature about a tough Jewish lady who was hell-on-wheels in a grocery store, I'd be happy to supply details. If my grandmother were alive to confront A.I.G., I'd put my money on her.

But I'm digressing, not a good thing, especially before I even begin to talk about "Monsters vs. Aliens,'' a new animated 3-D movie that features a woman the size of one of those balloons in a Thanksgiving Day parade.

Our giant heroine helps save the world from building-crushing alien invaders. To accomplish her mission, she needs help from several monsters. Needless to say, victory does not come without considerable wreckage.

The filmmakers who created "Monsters vs. Aliens" -- a decent if not entirely inspired animated feature -- definitely don't subscribe to the notion that less is more. They've stuffed their movie to its hyperactive gills, augmenting the whole business with 3-D. (No matter how hard I try, I still can't get used to 3-D glasses. They don't make me sick, but I find them annoying because I have to put them over my regular glasses. I won't be satisfied until someone can give me prescription 3-D glasses, which is another way of saying that I'm perfectly happy living in a 2-D movie world.)

Directors Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon use 3-D to catapult a few things at the audience, but mostly they create visual depth in a movie that tries -- in is own goofy way --to evoke the tacky splendor of '50s sci-fi. Action trumps storytelling, though, and that means the movie isn't quite as absorbing as you'd want.

The story kicks off with Susan (voice by Reese Witherspoon) on the verge of marrying a conceited TV weather man (Paul Rudd). Shaken by the landing of an asteroid, Susan grows into a towering giant woman known as Ginormica. Hey, nobody said this was based on a true story.

Eventually Ginormica joins with a blob-like creature named B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), a scientist who has turned himself into a bug called Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie); and another character known as the Missing Link (Will Arnett). There's also Insectosaurus, a creature who looks like a cross between an insect and the kind of stuffed animal you might win at some cheese-ball amusement park. All the monsters are being held in a prison presided over by Gen. W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland).

Gen. Monger eventually decides that the monsters probably are the best protectors of Earth, which is being attacked by a giant robot. To pursue his goal, Monger must persuade the dithering president of the U.S. (Stephen Colbert) to unleash the monsters. Before you can adjust those 3-D glasses, the war is on. As the title promises, it's monsters vs. aliens. We later learn that the robot is being controlled by Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson), a creature that operates the massive robot from a space ship that hovers over the Earth.

For those who like to keep score, it's worth pointing out that the monsters in the movie derive from big-screen predecessors: the Fly, the Blob, the Creature From the Black Lagoon and Mothra. Adults may get the joke; kids won't care.

"Monsters vs. Aliens" seemed to go over well at a preview screening; kids appeared happy. Me? I was my usual grumpy self. I wished, for example, that the humor and visual style had felt more original, and, by the end, I was sick of the 3-D. "Monsters vs. Aliens" probably will fly with at the box office, but I'd rank it a notch below "Kung Fu Panda" and a couple of notches below "Wall-E." I've had far worse times at the movies, but I expected more -- not in terms of visual pyrotechnics, but in terms of genuine involvement.

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