How do you think an alien would react if forced to experience the trials of
human dating rituals? This is the main idea behind "What Planet are you
From?", the new comedy from director Mike Nichols ("Primary Colors", "The
Birdcage"). Garry Shandling ("The Larry Sanders Show"), who also developed
the film's story, plays the lead role. The truth is, I went into this movie
not expecting a whole lot out of Shandling. I've never cared for his
previous roles, and the previews looked somewhat bland. Much to my surprise,
"What Planet are you From?" turned out to be quite an enjoyable movie with
fairly consistent laughs throughout. This is mainly because not only does
Shandling do an admirable job, but he is surrounded by a great supporting
On a planet way the hell out there, a race of men is preparing to take over
the universe by sending minions to have sex with women from every other race
in the galaxy. Harold Anderson (Garry Shandling) has been chosen to
procreate with a female from Earth. His planet's leader (Ben Kingsley)
prepares him with the necessary training (in a very amusing opening scene)
and gives him two days to conceive a child. However, upon his arrival,
Anderson finds that his training has not prepared him for the illogical
behavior of humans. He immediately seeks help from a co-worker (Greg
Kinnear) and is soon introduced to a suitable mate named Susan (Annette
Bening). Anderson is faced with two problems now: First, Susan will only
mate with him after they are married, and second, his arrival on the planet
has aroused the suspicions of an airport employee (John Goodman) who soon
discovers who Anderson really is.
I think the funniest thing about Shandling's performance throughout "What
Planet are you From?" is that he reacts to everything thrown at him in such
a logical manner. For example, in one scene Susan is upset with Harold for
watching television rather than paying attention to her. She hurls the
remote against the wall, smashing it. Harold immediately decides to purchase
a new remote, which further infuriates Susan. She then shouts "Fine, just
go!" Harold promptly nods his head and leaves. Annette Bening is perfectly
cast as Susan, managing somehow to look hassled, angry, and deeply confused
all at once. She also manages to save Shandling at times when his lack of
experience in a leading role begins to show.
The supporting cast is, in fact, one of the best things about this film.
Greg Kinnear ("Mystery Men", "As Good as it Gets") is perfect as the king of
sleaze balls everywhere. Ben Kingsley ("Species", "Schindler's List") is a
great choice as the straight as an arrow ruler of Anderson's planet, though
he is a bit underused. John Goodman ("The Big Lebowski"), who I believe is
one of the best comic actors in Hollywood, is hilarious in his role as the
one man who thinks he knows the truth. One of the biggest problems I had
with the film was that Goodman was so underused that his character seemed
rather pointless. Linda Fiorentino ("Dogma") makes a brief appearance as
Kinnear's wife, and Janeane Garofolo shows up in a cameo as an airline
The film may not make a whole lot of sense, since we are never told just how
Anderson's impregnating a woman will bring about the downfall of the
species, but plot isn't exactly the point here. While "What Planet are you
From?" manages to keep the humor going through the majority of its length,
things do get a bit too sappy and sentimental towards the end. If it had
been trimmend down some from its 112 minute running time I probably would
have given it four stars. One last thing I must note is that Annette Bening
plays a real-estate agent in the film ("American Beauty", anyone?). For a
very funny script, a surprisingly good turn by Garry Shandling, and a great
supporting cast, I give "What Planet are you From?" three and a half out of
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* * * * * - One of the greatest movies ever made, see it now.
* * * * - Great flick, try and catch this one.
* * * - Okay movie, hits and misses.
* * - Pretty bad, see it only if you've got nothing better to do.
* - One of the worst movies ever made. See it only if you enjoy pain.
Copyright © 2000 John Beachem