It’s hard to exhibit anything other than pity toward Escape from Planet Earth, an energetic and well-meaning but thoroughly watered-down and creatively ossified kiddie flick unceremoniously dumped into theaters after languishing in development and production hell for nearly six years. I saw the film without knowledge of that, or of the reported 17 rewrites demanded by the Weinstein Company, or of the healthy sum of hush money the studio forced upon the film’s original creators (Hoodwinked’s Tony Leech and producer Brian Inerfeld, the Eduardo Saverins to Harvey Weinstein’s Mark Zuckerberg) during the mounting awards success of The King’s Speech. But given the almost offensively piecemeal volley of cultural references, pratfalls, political jabs, shoehorned 3D tricks, and obvious instances of punched-up, off-screen jokes it lobs at the viewer, I wasn’t the least bit surprised to learn it. This might be less lamentable if Escape from Planet Earth were obviously a creatively bankrupt effort from the outset, but if you look hard, past the cynically retooled gags and unbearably impatient editing, you can almost see the ghost of something better, by no means great or original, but bearing a certain integrity the colorful babysitter currently in theaters wholly dispossesses.
Gary Supernova (Rob Corddry) is a technical wiz and head of mission control at BASA, on Planet Baab (pronounced “bob”), and the elder of the sibling duo that includes his beefier, gutsier, and altogether dimwitted brother, Scorch (Brendan Fraser). Together, they can take on most any obstacle, but Scorch’s ego tends to go to his head, and it’s central to the narrative that he comes to appreciate this codependency the hard way. Valuing the efforts of others, be they physical or mental, is a nice sentiment this story will likely impart on impressionable tykes, but elsewhere the story proves contemptuously paper-thin and woefully sans character motivation or a sense of dramatic urgency. Some smart, if snarky, jokes about global warming and humanity’s tendency to hide barbaric actions behind a veneer of civilization are scattered throughout, but for every remnant of what might’ve been a subversive, if slight, entertainment, there’s at least 10 or 12 that suggest something already dead but for the machines that keep it going through the motions; the factory is powered primarily by a cookie-cutter vocal cast that includes George Lopez as a quip-ready alien mouse and Jane Lynch as a creepy-looking cyclops, though, to be fair, the under-appreciated Fraser admirably brings his A game to the D-grade material. A brief scuffle with a giant, toothy monster around the film’s climax is an astonishingly sloppy scene on every level and fittingly encapsulates the ultimately tossed-off nature of this bastardized widget.