If it worked, Monsters vs. Aliens would be the movie equivalent of a novelty song like "The Purple People Eater" - a frolic that lodges in your brain and lightens your load for an entire season. But it's mostly just a giddy, gaudy shambles. This ragtag tale of a group of Earth monsters unleashed on the evil alien Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) will pop your eyes without tickling your funny bone.
It might have sounded hilarious as a pitch. What could be more surefire for a 3-D animated romp than assembling slapstick versions of the 50-Foot Woman, the Fly (here, "Dr. Cockroach"), the Blob, the Missing Link and Mothra (here, Insectosaurus)? Pitting them against Gallaxhar's clone army of numb-skulled walking squids should have only added to the merriment.
But the directors, Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon, who also wrote the shabby gag-book script with four other conspirators, simply throw everything at the wall and see if it will stick. The only thing that does, fittingly enough, is an oozing bloblike character called BOB (for Benzoate Ostelyzene Bicarbonate), an omnivorous, insatiable creature with the voice of Seth Rogen.
The best running gag comes when BOB falls in love with a Jell-O mold. The mold has more shape and structure than anything else about the movie. Rogen gives a textbook demonstration of the unlikely power a juicy voice performance can provide to a gelatinous mass. Yet, amazingly, in a cast that also includes Stephen Colbert as a reputation-conscious president and Kiefer Sutherland as a monster-wrangling general (with the joke name W.R. Monger), no one else stands out or steps up the way Rogen does.
The movie goes off course at the beginning: Reese Witherspoon's "49-Foot" Woman gets that tall on her wedding day when a radiating meteor falls beside her chapel. Her ultra-conventional TV-weatherman groom (Paul Rudd) sees her go through giant growth leaps and flees the altar in horror. This framework allows the directors to peddle the up-with-everybody message that people shouldn't let old definitions of normality ruin their weddings or otherwise hem them in.
Witherspoon's Susan/Ginormica, Hugh Laurie's Dr. Cockroach and Will Arnett's Missing Link are, of course, not "normal," but they're not so special, either. Where are the dazzling bits that should define Dr. Cockroach as a mad genius or the miracles of slovenly appetite that might peg the Link as the ultimate party animal?
Even the 3-D wears out its welcome. The technique is spectacular, but the use of it so unimaginative that by the end it has the snap of a worn rubber band.
Monsters vs. Aliens
(DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie. Directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon. Rated PG for sci-fi action, some crude humor and mild language. Time 94 minutes.