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'Mutant Aliens'

Celestial drag: Not much happening on the planet of 'Mutant Aliens'

Friday, August 30, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

You may have seen Bill Plympton's animated shorts in various "Spike and Mike" film compilations over the past decade. He's also directed six features, including "Mutant Aliens," now at the Oaks Theater.

'Mutant Aliens'

RATING: Not rated; contains animated sex and nudity, vulgar language and bathroom humor.

DIRECTOR: Bill Plympton.

WEB SITE: www.awn.com/plympton/ma


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Unfortunately, "Mutant Aliens" makes the case that more Plympton is not necessarily better Plympton.

The story line floats weightlessly in space, leaving plenty of room for such extra-vehicular activities as a man having sex with a giant nose, people being scared out of their bodily fluids, hungry and vengeful mutant animals literally tearing folks a new one, a preacher singing that you can't drag race with Jesus, the discharge of more bullets than Quentin Tarantino ever imagined.

Some of this is humorous the first time around but as it becomes obvious that "Mutant Aliens" is running on an empty tank (which, by the way, is how the protagonist gets into trouble), Plympton keeps riding the fumes of the same jokes until the movie finally stalls out.

On his Web site for "Mutant Aliens" (www.awn.com/plympton/ma), the animator offers a detailed production diary in which he acknowledges that both his original layouts for the graphic novel from which the film was developed and the first rough cut of the picture timed out at about 60 minutes. The finished film runs 83 minutes, which by his own reckoning may be 23 minutes too long. It certainly feels that way.

The story begins with astronaut Earl Jansen (voice of Dan McComas) being launched into orbit with much fanfare by the head honcho of the Department of Space, Dr. Frubar (George Casden).

But the doctor -- whose name is suspiciously similar to the acronym for, in its cleaned-up version, "fouled up beyond all recognition" -- has a sinister agenda that he sets into motion by dumping the fuel from Earl's capsule, stranding him in space. He blames the mishap on Earl's little daughter, Josie, who was sitting nearby and knows Frubar was responsible.

Cut to 20 years later. Josie works at an observatory, still hoping her father will return. As her boyfriend, Darby (Matthew Brown), arrives for some celestial sex (Plympton offers a fusillade of sight gags involving what Darby sees when he looks in his pants), Josie discovers that Earl is returning to Earth with a wondrous tale of how he survived (that's where the nose sex comes in) and a crew of mutant aliens (actually, it turns out the title is something of a misnomer) who will help him in his grand plan to exact revenge on Dr. Frubar.

And that's all there is. I kept hoping the movie would develop some emotional resonance -- the best scene in the film is the one on the planet of the giant noses -- or at least develop some clever sight gags or a more original take on corporate greed. No such luck.

That's too bad, because Plympton's style has its pleasures -- hand-drawn animation with the look of subtle pastel watercolors and monochromatics, and whimsical creatures that draw on Plympton's obvious fascination with body parts. I guess we should be picky about a movie featuring a planet of noses and fingers.

Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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