WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM? (2000) Reviews and overview

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What Planet Are You From? is a 2000 American science-fiction comedy feature film about a male alien sent to impregnate a female Earthling.

Directed by Mike Nichols from a screenplay co-written by Garry Shandling, Michael Leeson, Ed Solomon and Peter Tolan, the movie stars Garry Shandling, John Goodman, Annette Bening, Greg Kinnear, Ben Kingsley and Linda Fiorentino.


A late-career oddity from esteemed American director Mike Nichols, a former stage monologist-turned-specialist in social satires (The Graduate, Catch-22 etc.), What Planet Are You From? also represented the major big-screen contribution of American comedian Garry Shandling, whose self-referential brand of humour was best showcased on television (until he suddenly died in 2016).

He plays a manlike extraterrestrial in a highly advanced, all-male, ultra-logical civilisation in deep space, whose names are complicated alphanumerics. While overachieving has brought them to the pinnacle of technology, their species cannot reproduce – their sex organs, in fact, have atrophied to uselessness, but the film gets around a dodgy sight gag with a dodgy sound gag; these aliens get prosthetic penises that tend to buzz when erect. And erect they must be, for, in order to repopulate their world, the aliens have set their sights on infiltrating Earth, impregnating human women, and bringing the offspring back with them (we’re informed that the 1947 Roswell UFO incident was a failed early attempt at this).

Masquerading as “Harold Anderson,” a bank executive, the alien hero teleports to the USA. Thanks to a bunch of banal compliments and catchphrases he has memorized for females, Harold is indeed able to charm lovelies into his bed, but something always seems to go wrong (including that buzzing noise).

Finally, he meets a client at work (Annette Bening) who, as a recovering alcoholic, seems eager for a stable relationship and children. The catch is, she wants to get married. Which is fine with Harold; anything is fine with Harold, as long as he makes his goal of presenting a baby to his vaguely menacing superior (Ben Kingsley).

For a while, there’s some okay worst-female-nightmare-come-true stuff here, the proposition (from a script credited to four guys, including Shandling) that a handful of insincere compliments about hair, shoes and perfume can sweep any dumb woman off her feet and into coitus and make her think she’s found the perfect guy.

In fact, spaceman Harold is an empty vessel who thinks nothing of planning his wedding while arranging an extra bedroom rendezvous with another woman as a backup, and his reactions to human emotions are occasionally bemused but mostly machine-like. There’s a fairly high nudity quotient early on (sorry, guys, not from Annette Bening, who is quite charming), making one think that this premise might well have been at home in a 1960s/70s “nudie cutie” grindhouse comedy just as much as a glossy, expensive Columbia Picture.

But would it have been wiser to have just been that? In the long run, Harold starts to develop actual feelings for his child’s mother, while in a parallel plotline a Federal Aviation Agency official (John Goodman), whose own marriage is the stuff of hellish nightmares, starts to suspect the extraterrestrial presence in the area. Nichols is too wise a director to entirely wrap things up in an expected action-chase fashion (the comeuppance for Kingsley’s baleful bad guy is sublimely satisfying, even if it does steal from an old Indiana Jones gag), but there’s a crowd-pleaser happy finale after all. Shandling acquits himself adequately, in a role that frankly could have plugged in any number of trendy comedic leads (Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Tim Allen, you name it) with the same results.

Coming from Nichols, whose The Graduate and Carnal Knowledge literally defined their eras, this cosmic battle of the sexes is, generally, rather mild stuff, but there’s nothing all too innately embarrassing about What Planet Are You From? – at least not as embarrassing as the low ticket sales for the picture, which turned out to be one of a string of duds for Columbia.

Thus did the studio announce it was going to play things safe for the foreseeable 21st-century with sequels and franchise reboots, likely rationale for unnecessary follow-ups to Men in Black, Bad Boys, Charlie’s Angels, The Terminator etc. Arguably the bastard children of a sci-fi comedy about bastard children.

Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES and MANIA

Other reviews:

” …it’s a fairly entertaining little movie, adequately humorous in all the right (and expected) ways but not getting as much mileage out of the “alien” angle as one might think since Harold is, as noted, a very relatable man at his core. Shandling can be subtly hilarious in the lead role […] He’s surrounded by an extraordinarily good supporting cast.” Blu-ray.com

” …the film’s targets are completely banal. Women are demanding and over-emotional; men will never figure them out. Men are closed-off and obsessed with the TV remote when they’re not horny; women will never figure them out. The movie offers not one shred of insight, comic or otherwise, into the eternal conflict between the sexes.” eFilmCritic

“As countless filmmakers have illustrated over the years, sex can be one of the most amusing subjects to structure a comedy around, but What Planet Are You From? proves that the subject matter offers no guarantees. At best, the movie is fitfully amusing, but the level of laughter is not high enough to relieve the tedium generated by the banal, uneven romance that fills up the rest of the screen time.”  Reel Views

“Here is the most uncomfortable movie of the new year, an exercise in feel-good smut. What Planet Are You From? starts out as a dirty comedy, but then abandons the comedy, followed by the dirt, and by the end is actually trying to be poignant. For that to work, we’d have to like the hero, and Garry Shandling makes that difficult.” Roger Ebert

“The jokes consist mainly of the “men not understanding women” variety and the humor really offers no new insights. If you’re touchy you might even reasonably claim that What Planet Are You From? is sexist. All of which is a shame since the movie’ has a promising premise and if it decided to stick to its start as a sex comedy it could have been quite funny.” Sci-Fi Movie Page

Cast and characters:

Garry Shandling … Harold Anderson
Annette Bening … Susan
John Goodman … Roland Jones
Greg Kinnear … Perry Gordon
Ben Kingsley … Graydon
Judy Greer … Rebecca
Danny Zorn … Randy
Harmony Smith … Rita
Richard Jenkins … Don Fisk
Linda Fiorentino … Helen Gordon
Caroline Aaron … Nadine
Nora Dunn … Madeline
Cricky Long … Janice
Camryn Manheim … Alison
Ann Cusack … Liz

Technical details:

105 minutes
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1
Audio: DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS

Box office:

What Planet Are You From? grossed $6,291,602 domestically and $7,854,075 overseas for a worldwide total of $14,145,677. Based on an absurd $60 million budget, the film was a massive box office bomb.


MOVIES and MANIA rating:

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