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Alien Nation

Garry Shandling spaces out in What Planet Are You From?

At times, Shandling seems to think he's penning a Nora Ephron movie for Lifetime. He strives for poignancy during a gals-around-the-lunch-table scene (featuring Nora Dunn and Camryn Manheim), when Susan tells her friends she's going to marry Harold after two days because "I'm running out of time." But it's an unintentionally hysterical moment, because it's cheap, manipulative, hollow. The same can be said of the moment Shandling tells his fellow aliens that emotion is a good thing, as a small tear rolls down the side of Mt. Garry. It says little of a comedy that its funniest line arrives when Harold explains that "it's through conflict we learn about ourselves." But by then, the film has devolved into nothing but a series of halfhearted aphorisms and platitudes; Shandling apparently wrote the final half hour on the backs of Hallmark cards, then decided to use the text inside. Still, it's no worse than when Shandling and Nichols try to play a baby's kidnapping for laughs.

What Planet Are You From? has the stink of sitcom all over it -- Mork and Mindymade for the big screen, with a bit of Starman thrown in (a rather laborious subplot features John Goodman as an FAA investigator hot on Harold's trail). That Mike Nichols's name is attached to it means absolutely nothing -- even to those who forgave the director of The Graduate for making its cynical, gooey opposite, Working Girl, 21 years later. The film looks as though it were filmed with a single camera; it might as well have been released as a flip book. And Nichols could get no more from Bening and Kinnear -- both of whom should have their Oscar nominations revoked -- than he could from Shandling. Susan is alternately annoying and nonexistent, and one can't help but cringe when Bening reenacts the scene from American Beauty, almost movement for movement, in which she stands alone in one of her unsold properties -- only this time, the scene contains no resonance, no meaning. You just sit there, waiting for the commercial break.

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