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There are few signs of intelligent life behind "What Planet Are You From?"

Sexual Alienation


Message to whoever is currently enjoying the intimate company of Garry Shandling: Get Out Now! Some lower form of alien life has taken over your loved one's body. Check for pods under the bed. They are no longer who you think they are. What, you don't believe me? OK, then sit through "What Planet Are You From?" Can you tell me that's the work of Mike Nichols, Annette Bening and Shandling?

Because if "What Planet" is what we can expect from Nichols (the director who gave us "The Graduate" and "Working Girl") or Shandling (who created and starred in one of the cleverest comedies to hit cable, "The Larry Sanders Show") in the 21st century, then something has gone terribly awry.

Instead of being an edgy, pointed skewering of the differences between males and females as seen from the perspective of an anatomically incorrect alien, "What Planet" plays like a smutty "American Pie" cut for the midboomer, pre-Viagra set. These usually talented people must have been transfixed by the out-of-this-world box office grosses spawned by the recent spate of teen-cream flicks. Other than my conspiracy theory, how else would one explain the movie's adolescent fascination with sexual function (and dysfunction) that runs through every scene?

The entire movie spins on this notion: A normally asexual extraterrestrial (Shandling) has been equipped with a sex organ so he can visit Earth, impregnate a female, have the baby, return to home planet and begin plans for third rock domination. But the trick is, you see, his faux phallus hums whenever it's aroused. Presented with all its infinite variations, that's the extent of the movie's jokes.

Oh, there are a few good-natured chuckles at the expense of women early on, but pretty soon anyone of the female persuasion starts to find the incessant and uninspired gender stereotyping less and less humorous. Although in fairness, the writers and director toss viewers an Equal-Employment-Opportunity crumb: Greg Kinnear as a smarmy male predator — although Kinnear does try to make something more out of his one-dimensional role as a homophobic, back-stabbing bank employee who shows Shandling the ropes. (Shandling's human identity is as loan officer Harold Anderson from Seattle.)

Bening also makes a valiant but futile effort to play the flustered, recovering alcoholic real-estate agent who somehow falls for the alien and gives birth to his son. Shandling employs his stock befuddled look to good effect here, but it still isn't enough to make us forget that he's squandering it on such unworthy material. But he helped write the stuff, so he has no one to blame other than himself.

Ben Kingsley, in constricting "1984-esque" garb, is deadpan-perfect as the alien dictator who chooses Shandling for this all-important assignment. Linda Fiorentino on the other hand, looks bored with her underwritten role as Kinnear's overtly sexual and disillusioned wife. And John Goodman has his moments as an FAA investigator who begins to suspect Shandling's real purpose, although no one — especially wife Caroline Aaron — believes him.

But whenever Nichols and his writers stumble upon a cute idea, like Goodman's UFO-inspired marital woes or Kinnear's Iago-inspired office treachery, they fail to go anywhere with it. Consequently, much of the movie feels jarringly out of synch, as if we are watching a very early, very rough cut.

Skip this tediously single-minded sex comedy at the megaplex. "What Planet Are You From?" should be heading to video quickly, where it will enjoy a long and healthy shelf life.

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