What Planet Are You From?
Directed by Mike Nichols
Review by Matt Heffernan
Mike Nichols has been a top director since his 1966 debut Who's Afraid of Virginis Woolf? He followed that up with his greatest work -- The Graduate -- which showed his skill at making a brilliant comedy with serious undertones. He continued that trend through Primary Colors, which was a satiric yet sympathetic look at Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. His latest film, however, is a departure that he probably shouldn't have taken.
On a distant planet, an alien race has reached unimaginable levels of technology, but they have a pretty basic problem: their population is entirely male. Worse yet, their genitalia have withered after many generations of cloning. The planet's leader (Ben Kingsley) chooses citizen H1449-6 (Garry Shandling) to go to Earth, equipped with a cybernetic penis and a mission to impregnate a woman. With a new progeny, their race will be able conquer Earth.
After boarding a plane in flight, H1449-6 takes the identity of Harold Anderson. He takes a job at a bank, where co-worker Perry Gordon (Greg Kinnear) helps him find a mate. They go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and Harold meets Susan Hart (Annette Bening). They go on a date, but Susan says that she doesn't want to have sex unless she gets married. Harold proposes the next day. His desire to have children wins her over, despite his buzzing crotch and total lack of a personality.
What Planet Are You From starts out very funny, with many clever jabs at how men treat women. After a while, though, the premise wears thin, and the film becomes a prolonged "Saturday Night Live" sketch that doesn't know how to end. A subplot involving a Federal Aviation Authority agent (John Goodman) investigating Harold is little more than filler, and a cheap way to come up with a silly ending.
This is the first leading role in a feature film for Shandling, who also co-wrote the screenplay. He is a very funny man, but any given episode of "The Larry Sanders Show" was a better showcase for his talents. One problem might be the evolution of the screenplay. It was originally co-written with Michael Leeson (The War of the Roses), but has since been touched by two additional hands. That's usually a sign of early problems, and it would seem that they weren't fully resolved.
So, it appears that Nichols may be yet another established director who will give way to the new crop of young talent. It seems that hardly anybody over 40 can make a decent film anymore -- except for Curtis Hanson, who couldn't make a decent film until he turned 50.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
What Planet Are You From? (2000)
For a very interesting look at the career of Mike Nichols and his occasional partner, Elaine May, visit the appropriately named A Website with Mike Nichols and Elaine May.
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan