Rated R - Running Time: 1:47 - Released 3/3/00

Mike Nichols has an impressive resumé, having directed such films as Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, The Graduate, and, more recently, The Birdcage and Primary Colors. But What Planet Are You From? is not exactly a shining example of his talent. Its uneven style is distracting, and its star (Garry Shandling) is not an actor but a comedian in actor's clothing. Shandling is best at making us laugh at his geekiness, but in a role that requires romantic leading man qualities, he falls short. The story was written by Shandling and Michael Leeson, with screenplay help from Ed Solomon and Peter Tolan, so there's another reason for such a mixture of styles. Too many cooks, you know.

Shandling plays H1449-6, an alien from an all-male planet whose population has relied on cloning for so long that they have no penises. But their desire to take over the galaxy (starting with Earth) requires that they build a population on the targeted planet. This means impregnating an Earth woman, and H1449 is chosen to do the job. He is fitted with artificial genitalia, given the name Harold Anderson, and sent to Phoenix, where he gets a job as a banker and promptly starts hitting on women. But since the leader of his planet (Ben Kingsley) is ignorant of how to relate to a woman, his training consists mainly of complimenting her shoes and saying "uh-huh" in between her sentences. Luckily, he meets Perry (Greg Kinnear), a co-worker who helps him with such subtle tactics as attending A.A. meetings for the sole purpose of picking up recovering female alcoholics.

Finally Harold meets a woman who's willing (Annette Bening), but Susan insists on getting married before sex. Soon the happy couple are in Vegas tying the knot and getting busy. A few weeks later, Susan is expecting, and after a lightning-fast pregnancy, she gives birth to a bouncing baby boy. But Harold's growing sense of Earthly emotion results in a breach of his contract and gets him in a heap of trouble back home. A side story, which has almost no bearing on the main plot, is the obsessive quest of an airline detective (John Goodman) who is onto Harold and his alien plan.

Like The Whole Nine Yards, this film's tone is in conflict. Its first half plays like a silly farce (although much of it is like a documentary on date rape), but at some point it uncomfortably mutates into romantic comedy. Some elements, like the buzzing of Harold's fake penis or the opening tutorial on Earth women, rely on the preposterous to get a laugh, but the domestic squabbling between Harold and Susan is almost too real. The fact that they barely know each other is unpleasant rather than funny; it's like watching the honeymoon recently enjoyed by the couple on Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire? What's more, the script is dreadfully sexist. All the film's women are regarded, by the script and the male characters, as sexual conquests, and extramarital affairs are not only accepted but encouraged. And the female characters only further this notion: all of them are either hot to trot (Harold is able to actually "score" with several women despite his pushy dating style and his whirring member) or nagging bitches who jump to conclusions with minimal provocation.

There are a few notable performances. Kinnear's portrayal of Perry is by far the funniest in the movie; his slimy charm and unbridled opportunism remind me of a Dabney Coleman character from the '70s. Bening's characterization of Susan is heartfelt; even if she is mismatched with the script, she gives reality to her scenes. And Goodman is adequate in his dippy part. But Shandling's Harold is not someone you can get behind, and his script is written with about as much knowledge of human interaction as . . . hey, wait a minute. Maybe he is an alien. **½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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