Posted by mike in Film,Reviews at 11:57 am on December 24, 2008

Status: In theaters (opened 12/12/08)
Directed By: Scott Derrickson
Written By: David Scarpa
Cinematographer: David Tattersall
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith

Here’s what would seem like a decent solution to the fact that many people find Keanu Reeves’s acting to generally be very stiff: cast him as an alien being without emotion who visits our planet to coldly decide whether or not our species should be allowed to continue inhabiting it. That’s the premise of this “re-imagining” of the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, with Jennifer Connelly playing an updated Helen Benson—no longer a lowly secretary, now an astrobiologist who happens to be conveniently qualified to address the issue of visiting extraterrestrial life—and Jaden Smith (Will and Jada’s son) stepping in as her stepson (yes, they have a somewhat contrived story to explain how he ended up in her care—I’m not sure if it was tacked on after the casting decision was made).

Director Scott Derrickson and writer David Scarpa have settled on a somewhat awkward pacing for their film, front-loading it with a lot of rapid exposition and tense action while the alien and his classically-styled robot companion arrive before settling in as a slow-moving car-ride movie. The exposition is interesting, with an appropriate amount of mystery maintained around the alien’s arrival and capture by the U.S. government, led by a NASA official (Jon Hamm, TV’s Don Draper) and the Secretary of Defense (Kathy Bates). There’s a very generic E.T. feel to this, with Connelly’s character serving as the Elliot: the evil U.S. government wants to experiment on the spaceman, but she’s the only one who sympathizes with him and recognizes that somebody should help him. She and her stepson take him to meet with another alien-in-human-form and generally work on assessing the potential ability of our species to stop destroying our planet.

Whereas the original film had a strong post-WWII sensibility, with the aliens’ judgment focusing on humans’ penchant for warring with and killing each other, here we have a modern twist where their concern is over our knack for exhausting the planet’s natural resources (and specifically, its rare ability to support life). I don’t know that I find this to be a more effective plot device, but I can’t argue that it isn’t timely, at least.

As mentioned, Reeves is stoic—to put it lightly—throughout, doing all he can to show as little emotion as possible. He is, unsurprisingly, successful in this endeavor. Personally I find this to be somewhat effective, but I think the majority of audiences will tire of the expressionless visitor named Klaatu rather quickly. Connelly and Smith are as good as they can be, considering the fact that the majority of their lines are flatly lifeless, despite the situation their characters are supposedly in. There’s also a cute cameo from John Cleese as the genius scientist. On the whole, though, there’s not much the actors here can do because the screenplay is so weak. Without giving anything more about the plot away, suffice it to say that you’re best off checking your sense of logic at the ticket counter; almost every major plot point is sure to help relieve any itchiness your scalp might be experiencing.