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The Day the Earth Stood Still **˝

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

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Reeves plays an alien bent on exterminating the human race in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL
(Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner)

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Jon Hamm. Rated PG-13.

Keanu Reeves has often seemed most comfortable playing characters who appear slightly disconnected, whether they’re emotionally tuned into an alternate reality (as in The Matrix) or blissfully divorced from any known reality at all (as in 2006’s A Scanner Darkly). Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that Reeves delivers one of his more bloodless deadpan turns as Klaatu, an alien who sets in motion the extinction of the human race before having second thoughts, in this year’s remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

If Robert Wise’s 1951 original was a heavy-handed parable about the dangers of the nuclear age, Scott Derrickson’s sleek update is briskly paced and handsome, though far less compelling as social commentary. Clearly, Derrickson and screenwriter David Scarpa (The Last Castle) have something to say about the reckless depletion of earth’s natural resources – this latest bit of sci-fi revisionism doubles as an obvious metaphor about the environment – but rather than tackle the issue with any real conviction, they seem content to resolve the drama at the heart of the film with trite assurances of man’s ability to change.

One can’t help wonder why Klaatu traveled so many light years if his endgame turned out to be a hollow warning. Accompanied by his trusted sidekick Gort (a towering robot once played by actor Lock Martin in a thick foam-rubber suit, now a creature of CGI design), Klaatu doesn’t mince words when coldly informing Helen (Jennifer Connelly) and her grating son Jacob (Jaden Smith) that man has run out of time. A confederation of alien civilizations has decided to pull the plug, unwilling to waste one of the solar system’s few fertile planets on a race determined to squander it.

From there, The Day the Earth Stood Still settles into a familiar disaster-movie groove, as Helen and Jacob race against the clock to change Klaatu’s mind, often by reminding him that many of man’s finest moments have come as he stands on the brink of catastrophe. Klaatu, whose determination seems a bit too easily softened, appears to concede the point, though not before unleashing a storm of locust-like parasites that threaten to chew through the Eastern seaboard.

Derrickson provides some tense, eerily disquieting moments after Klaatu’s initial descent to earth, when Reeves comes across as a lean, lethal portrait of deadly resolve. But as it becomes clear, too early in the game, that Klaatu’s executioner’s song is really a didactic bluff, The Day the Earth Stood Still loses its urgency and much of its raison d’ętre.

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