Story last updated at 12/17/2008 - 4:44 pm
Now we know what happens when the Earth slows below 55 mph and stands still: Keanu Reeves appears as an alien, politicians get trigger- happy, mankind panics and swarms of bugs appear to cleanse the planet of that ultimate parasite - humanity.
"The Day the Earth Stood Still" has far more action and special effects than the original 1951 Robert Wise version, and its cautionary theme has been updated from the Cold War to the war on the environment. But in many ways, it's a lot like the old movie.
That's good in one way: It has some old-fashioned earnestness to it, in between the effects. There's an efficiency to the storytelling.
And there's a complete lack of cussing and anything at all resembling sex.
If you like black-and-white sci-fi from the '50s - I'm a sucker for it - this would fit in nicely, with its scientists and politicians and military men befuddled by the alien threat.
But that resemblance is also its weakness, as it indulges in the era's worst habits: clunky speechifying, moralizing and enough exposition for three movies.
The film doesn't waste any time, though. After a prologue in 1928, we meet Jennifer Connelly, holding forth in a college lab. We quickly learn she's an astrobiologist (yes, she theorizes on extra-terrestrial life) and that she has a moody young stepson (Jaden Smith, Will Smith's son).
Without much muss or fuss, she's pulled from her house by a convoy of black SUVs and motorcycles, then rushed to Central Park, where a huge glowing ball from outer space has landed.
It's carrying an alien emissary, Klaatu, along with his giant robotic protector, Gort (who gets a military acronym that, being the funniest line in the movie, won't be spoiled here).
"I'm a friend to the Earth," says Klaatu, who, after emerging from a membrane-like spacesuit, looks just like Keanu Reeves.
One is not breaking new ground if one points out that, as an expressionless space alien, Reeves is perfectly cast.
Klaatu is here to save the Earth, but that may or may not include that pest known as humanity. Perhaps the attractive astrobiologist and her troubled stepson can help steer him in the right direction?
But those bumbling warmongers in the government - Kathy Bates is their representative - aren't going to make it easy for the human race. They'd rather shoot first than listen to what the expressionless alien has to say.
There are numerous angles to the potential end of the earth, but director Scott Derrickson seems intent on ignoring most of them in favor of his cozy threesome of alien, scientist and little boy.
Looking at the bright side, the movie does move briskly and is rarely boring.
As far as other alien-invasion stories go, it's not as entertaining as "Independence Day," as creepy as "Signs" or as destructive as "War of the Worlds. "Think of it as a mildly entertaining also-ran.
We'll note, though, that it's probably best seen on Imax: Worldwide destruction looks impressive and nastier on that big screen. And the aliens here are capable of emitting a piercing scream that can bring burly commandos to their knees; you'll probably want to hear that on the superior sound system.
2 stars out of 4. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. Rated PG-13 for Sci-fi destruction.
Matt Soergel may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.