A comedian whose schtick has always been his acute social-sexual dysfunction, in "What Planet Are You From?" Garry Shandling is nothing if not well-cast as an alien packed off to Earth by his neutered, all-male race to impregnate an earth female as a prelude to invasion.
Given a crash course in inept pick-up lines and fitted with a motorized prosthetic penis that hums when he's aroused, Shandling is transported to the privy of a passenger jet and emerges to piggishly proposition stewardesses and every other female in sight, in what has to be the most awkwardly sexist comedy since the 1960s.
Populated by fundamentally unlikable, abusive men and pathetically needy, bitchy women, the drudging, deadpan farce tracks Shandling's libidinous frustration as he fails to pick up chicks and is chased by FAA investigator John Goodman (his arrival caused an air traffic incident), who figures out his secret with the flimsiest of suppositions.
Shandling poses as a banker, picks up Annette Bening at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting ("Great place to meet easy chicks," co-worker Greg Kinnear advises him), then marries her because otherwise she won't put out and he's running out of options. This sets the film up to become little more than a vulgar, sci-fi rehashing of the same old Mars vs. Venus material that's been visited before in 10,000 romantic comedies.
Shandling is soon acclimated enough to Earth culture to become a competitive snake at work, a beer-swilling couch potato at home and can even crack obscure jokes about the Pulitzer Prize -- yet somehow he still hasn't learned a thing about women. Oh. Ha-ha. I get it. Yeish!
Directed by Mike Nichols ("The Birdcage") from a screenplay Shandling piloted through a large committee of script doctors, "What Planet" shows an occasional spark of incidental comedic creativity in between the recurring and increasingly tiresome humming crotch gags. For instance, the office of Goodman's FAA snoop is decorated with framed pictures of burning planes.
But such infrequent, irrelevant chuckles aren't enough to prevent adult audiences from fidgeting like little kids for most of the movie, wondering if Nichols will ever be rolling out the belly laughs, toning down the insults or getting to the point.
Bening gives birth in the last act, leading to a predictable emergence of humanity in Shandling, a confrontation with his home planet and an emasculating flip-flop in the movie's tone that exposes its utter lack of depth.
In 1989, Geena Davis, Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans made a cornball B-comedy called "Earth Girls Are Easy" (based on the Julie Brown song) with a similar plot, sans the invasion angle. It's a guilty pleasure -- dumb, predictable, under-written and meagerly acted -- but it has twice the laughs of "What Planet Are You From?" without the shrill attitude toward the battle of the sexes.
If "What Planet" appeals to you in theory, I say stay home and rent "Earth Girls" instead.