"Even the special effects lacked oomph and looked borrowed."
Let me paint a picture of The Day the Earth Stood Still's plot, the remake, not the 1951 sci-fi favorite, using familiar film landscapes.
Microbiology expert, Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) receives an enigmatic phone call and moments later is spirited away by the FBI -- along with other leading scientists -- to help determine how the Deep Impact, a meteor-like object, will affect Manhattan. But surprise, it's no meteor. Instead, Central Park gets a Close Encounter with an atmospherically swirling sphere that emits an eerie rumbling reminiscent of Cloverfield or Godzilla approaching. Helen attempts an E.T. encounter with a luminous being that emerges, but a jittery soldier shoots the alien. Fortunately, Iron Man, a.k.a. Gort (who's half Cylon—pardon the TV anomaly), steps in to protect him. Nevertheless, he allows the military to shuttle his fallen, glow-in-the-dark comrade to a military hospital where beneath a layer of placenta-like Poltergeist goo a doctor discovers Keanu Reeves as the alien Klaatu, who is an intergalactic Al Gore. Al's on a mission to rid the Earth of its human pestilence and restore it to health. Benson tries to convince him otherwise, while the U.S. Defense Department has a War of the Worlds flashback and tries to blow Gort and the spheres up.
Needless to say Keanu was born to play Klaatu. Or anything not human. Awkwardly unnatural, unable to emote or work the appropriate facial muscles, with a certain dazed, distant look in his eyes. Klaatu's experience striding in human skin is as "unreal" as Keanu's acting, which here, is much more believable than in his non-alien performances. Could it be ... Keanu is truly not of this world?
Connelly's the one and only human foil to his extraterrestrial environmentalist. The remaining cast consists of one-note stereotypes of the U.S.A. at its ugliest. Sadly, the U.S. Secretary of Defense is as far as Klaatu got when he asked to be taken to our world leaders. True, from what I know of the Bruce Jansen original, it took place in the Cold War-era, just after WWII, when global tensions were high and trust was low. But couldn't the 2008 remake have been infused with a smidge of gripping moral conflict? The Secretary of Defense (Kathy Bates) is a jump-the-gate, shoot-first, take-lie detector-test-later war horse. And Benson's young stepson Jacob is worse. If Jackson's a two-dimensional stand in for a quick-draw, slow-thinking military, than Jacob's the poster boy for an equally reactionary and bloodthirsty Average Joe America. Where are all the liberals?
Fast, furious and action-packed, the film has enough speed for suspense and excitement. And a touch of comedy (see Klaatu turn the tables on his interrogator). Just not the dialogue, depth, topical freshness, or inspiration to breathe new life into a cult classic. Or make an audience care about the characters. And it's mostly not Reeves' fault. Though I grew oddly fond of Klaatu and Gort, mustering sympathy for an unconvincingly worthy race of humans however, was much harder. Even the special effects lacked oomph and looked borrowed.
If I were Klaatu, with Benson and Jacob as the only argument to appeal humankind's death sentence, I'd give Gort the go-ahead to finish sandblasting the planet, or at least Hollywood.