August 6, 2009

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Aliens in the Attic (PG)
A group of cousins on a family vacation must save the world from alien invasion after they find extraterrestrials living in the attic of their lakeside rental in Aliens in the Attic, an amusing-enough kid adventure.

You know, there’s always something wrong with a vacation rental. If it’s not world-dominating aliens in the attic, it’s mice. Or broken cable. Or a surprisingly liberal definition of the term “water front.”

We have Nana (Doris Roberts); her sons Stuart (Kevin Nealon) and Nathan (Andy Richter); Stuart’s wife Nina (Gillian Vigman); Stuart and Nina’s teenage son, Tom (Carter Jenkins), and daughters, the teenaged Bethany (Ashley Tisdale) and the young Hannah (Ashley Boettcher), and Nathan’s sons, the teenage Jake (Austin Robert Butler) and younger twins Art (Henri Young) and Lee (Regan Young). The teenaged Bethany is the oldest of the bunch, though not really old enough for her boyfriend Ricky (Robert Hoffman), who claims to be a senior in high school but is really a senior in college.

Thusly is the Pearson family assembled in the aforementioned lake house — with a pool and satellite TV — for a vacation of family fun about which the children, naturally, have mixed feelings. Bethany is happy her boyfriend showed up but uneasy about how fast he wants to take things. Tom is sick of being labeled a nerd and is your standard scowling teen. His roughly-the-same-aged cousin Jake is happy to be the goofy bully. Younger kids Hannah, Art and Lee seem A-OK with being comic relief.

An angst-filled start to the vacation takes a tragic turn when suddenly the satellite TV goes out and the family fears a week of no TV. Ricky offers to fix it, taking Tom with him to the roof, where he shows his true jerk colors and tasks Tom with patching up the satellite. But the burnt-to-a-crisp satellite appears beyond repair — that, as it turns out, is what happens when a tiny alien craft hits it.

Soon, the kids find themselves in a battle to keep aliens Tazer (Thomas Haden Church), Skip (J.K. Simmons), Razor (Kari Wahlgren) and Sparks (Josh Peck) in the basement so they can prevent the little green men (and one female) from carrying out their dastardly plan of world domination. Naturally, only the kids can know about this (the aliens can shoot adults with mind-control darts, which is how you get the kung fu fight between Nana and Ricky in the trailer, but they don’t work on kids).

Aliens in the Attic won’t blow you away with technical or story-telling innovation but it is sufficiently cute. The jokes are of the silly physical humor, paintball-hits-a-guy-in-the-groin variety but they mostly work. (And a scene where the kids frantically try to figure out how to work a rotary phone and then watch in horror at how long it takes to dial the “9” in “911” is actually quite funny). Even the comedy stylings of Tim Meadows as the local sheriff feel nicely non-offensive and devoid of the kind of horrible mugging you might call “Rob Schneider Syndrome.”

And kids in the theater where I saw this movie laughed — “entertaining the children” being a hugely important but occasionally overlooked factor in kid/family movies. Aliens in the Attic doesn’t do anything new with its family entertainment themes of learning to believe in yourself and appreciate your family but it hits all the familiar notes just fine. B-

Rated PG for action violence, some suggestive humor and language. Directed by John Schultz and written by Mark Burton and Adam F. Goldberg, Aliens in the Attic is an hour and 26 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by 20th Century Fox.