Since Keanu Reeves has all the expressiveness of a toaster, why is he starring in the new The Day the Earth Stood Still as human-looking alien Klaatu rather than giant robot Gort? Chalk it up to one of many opportunities missed by this inert remake, in which Central Park is visited by a UFO resembling a giant, atmospheric snow globe that’s piloted by Klaatu, an extraterrestrial with a human form which comes encased, during his initial meeting with our species, in an organic space suit made of whale blubber-like tissue. Other than working overtime to scientifically explain Klaatu’s manly appearance, director Scott Derrickson’s main revision to his 1951 source material is that the impetus for Klaatu’s mission—in which he seeks to investigate whether man can “change”—isn’t intergalactic fear of nuclear proliferation but of environmental negligence, a change that honors the Robert Wise-helmed original’s desire to reflect contemporary concerns yet nonetheless feels limp and perfunctory.
Still, the tossed-off quality of this central moral (stave off annihilation by treating the planet right, knuckleheads!) at least minimizes the preaching, perhaps the only way in which this new Day trumps its creakily sermonizing predecessor. Jennifer Connelly is the featureless widowed astro-microbiologist who helps Klaatu see that people are more than destructive animals, largely by being hot and showering affection upon her African-American stepson (Jaden Smith), though the woodenness of every archetype trotted out by the film—including Jon Hamm’s noble doctor and Kathy Bates’s torture-loving secretary of defense—does little to make the case for our race’s worth. In a rare intriguing moment, a link is suggested between the way our memories keep the dead alive and the way the Earth re-assimilates and regenerates organic matter.
Mushy-headed pap about love’s indescribable majesty and busy, amateurish landmark-destruction sequences, however, are the predictable, guiding order of this Day. As for Keanu, the actor proves he’s got a mean blank stare, which is no more exciting than a bare wall and yet still more compelling than the pitiful computer-generated effects used to create Gort, a rubbery creation that seems weightless, cartoony, detached from his surroundings, and thus part of a different film. If only he were so lucky.