Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Garry Shandling plays an alien with a vibrating penis in What Planet Are You From?, a film that never lives up to its innate potential to be either great or unwatchable. Sent by his all-male planet to breed on earth in preparation for a takeover, Shandling arrives in Phoenix and assumes the identity of a banking officer. After receiving a crash course in human dating rituals from sleazy coworker Greg Kinnear, Shandling wins the heart of a flaky but endearing AA veteran (Annette Bening). But trouble awaits in the form of Shandling's impatient leader (Ben Kingsley) and a federal investigator (John Goodman) who's on to the scheme. What Planet Are You From? has an appealing star, a solid supporting cast, a frequently great director (Mike Nichols), and a potentially funny premise. Sadly, it's just not funny. With It's Garry Shandling's Show and The Larry Sanders Show, Shandling created groundbreaking TV programs that answered to no one. So why does his first movie as a star (and co-writer and co-producer) feel like it's been test-screened into neutrality? Stopping short only of pointing out that men are from Mars and women from somewhere else, Planet is often just a vehicle for obvious, stand-up-tested observations about the differences between the sexes. That Shandling and Nichols make the film as blandly enjoyable as it is may itself count as an accomplishment, but it's hardly enough, particularly in moments that suggest the whole thing is meant to be taken seriously. Always a pro, Nichols keeps Planet moving and looking good, but he plays it way too safe. The film needs a different sort of guiding hand, one content to exploit its lowbrow potential (like the Farrelly Brothers), play the gender politics for all they're worth (like Albert Brooks), or push things into the arena of inspired lunacy (like Sleeper-era Woody Allen). Instead, it's merely a sporadically funny, minor effort from an ensemble that could and should have done better.


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