This watchable, initially promising remake of the classic original isn’t a disaster, but, at best, it’s an interesting failure. Keanu Reeves stars as Klaatu, an alien in human guise who comes to Earth to warn mankind about the error of its ways and connects emotionally with a widowed mother (Jennifer Connelly) and her son (Jaden Smith). The 1951 original was about the need for humankind to reconsider the use of nuclear weapons; this one, in not-so-subtle ways, is about how badly humans have treated the planet—and that’s the biggest problem with the movie. Imagine Independence Day without Will Smith, crossed with an Earth Day special.
Hollywood has been pushing eco-issues hard…too hard. Environmental concerns are tremendously important but, here, as in other recent films, they’re presented in a laughably heavy-handed fashion. There has to be a better way to highlight these urgent eco concerns than having a character lecture the audience. Even worse, the movie doesn’t tell us how we could save our planet (couldn’t Klaatu at least suggest recycling?). The original Klaatu was a pre-cursor for the peace-loving, counterculture movement that was about to take place. Here, he’s like an intergalactic Al Gore.
Filmgoers frequently knock Reeves for giving stiff performances and complain that he can’t act. Actually, despite some unfortunate choices, he can act and, in a handful of films, displays genuine depth, fearlessness and charisma. The problem is, Reeves has given great performances both comedic and dramatic in movies no one saw, while some of his most awkward performances were in widely seen hits.
Sci-fi is the genre that has made Reeves famous but, unfortunately, his latest film is more like Johnny Mnemonic than The Matrix.
Gort, the silent, towering, one-eyed, laser beam-shooting robot from the original is back and is still an awesome sci-fi icon and the special effects are always great. Connelly is solid as always, but having her and Kathy Bates, both Oscar winners, share the screen without being given much to do is a missed opportunity. Smith has a strong scene in a cemetery but otherwise gives a typical wide-eyed, cute kid performance that is not in the same league as his work in The Pursuit of Happyness. The story follows the outline of the original for a while, until it gets bogged down in explosions interrupted only by Klaatu describing the inconvenient truths plaguing our planet.
Non-fans of the original may not mind, while those who rightfully consider the Robert Wise film to be a sci-fi classic will be angered and puzzled by what they see. The fault lies neither with Reeves, who gives his role a good shot, nor the director, Scott Derrickson. The blame goes to the preachy, half-baked screenplay. Even Ferngully: The Last Rainforest is a superior melding of message and fantasy. MTW