The Day the Earth Stood Still: Keanu Reeves Has Come from Space to Eat a Sandwich and Pout
People who defend the original 1951 Day the Earth Stood Still as a good movie obviously haven't watched it with clear eyes. At least a quarter of the film consists of reaction shots (A flying saucer arrives! Cue two to five minutes of stock footage of people panicking and tanks driving to meet the flying saucer!), and the rest of it is a snoozer about how nuclear bombs will kill us all. So the 2008 Day actually had a rare opportunity: It could have been a remake that improves upon the original. That opportunity has been pathetically, almost hatefully, squandered.
Keanu Reeves stars as Klaatu, an alien from far away with a message for humanity. Instead of an earnest lecture against nukes, he wants to inform us that we are murdering the environment. And so his large robotic friend (who is named Gort in the original, and whom the military hilariously dubs some long faux-sciency term that acronyms conveniently down to G.O.R.T. in the remake) prepares to destroy the Earth. To keep us from destroying the Earth.
There are few things more unpalatable than gorgeous, undertalented actors whining about the environment. An Inconvenient Truth was a good film—adapted from a PowerPoint presentation, for Christ's sake—because it wasn't packed with platitudes and cow-eyed Jennifer Connelly and paycheck-hungry John Cleese all but looking directly into the camera and scolding us to change our light bulbs or what the fuck ever. And it doesn't help that Day's plot is the worst kind of Bruckheimer-style nonsense and that all the dialogue is shit.
The vaguely brain-damaged-seeming Reeves is, in theory, a great choice to play a dispassionate alien. This is the one role that would've been perfect had he brought his usual himbo vacuousness to the job. Instead, Reeves tries to act—you can tell because his eyebrows are knit in a couple scenes—and the result is the expected blend of ineptitude and unintentional hilarity, like when he tries to eat a tuna sandwich the way an alien would. Connelly is at her most forgettable as a scientist specializing in some sort of scientific specialty. Cleese, in his one brief scene, should have a sign around his neck reading "Will act for food." Worst of all is Will Smith's young, corkscrew-haired clone Jaden. He plays the douchiest generic child ever put to screen in a big studio film (at one point, early in the film, he actually says "Vegetables? Ew!") and brings a ham-fisted gravity to the situation: Deep down, the little monster is hurting, see?
Beyond its message-film mentality, Day makes several other egregious errors. It follows in the footsteps of Contact and War of the Worlds by making an entire alien invasion of Earth all about one family's inability to properly relate to one another. And it tries to somehow be more realistic than the original film. When your movie is about a giant robot with a boner for global destruction, it doesn't matter if your spaceship looks like a humongous pie-plate (in the original) or a somehow more realistic sphere of clouds (in the remake). It's a fucking flying saucer. Everyone knows that flying saucers fly through outer space. No crappy "realistic" explanation necessary. Problem solved. Move on. Unfortunately, after you slice through all the bad acting and the oatmeal-thick environmental message and the harebrained attempts at realism, there's nothing there. It's a big dumb joyless vacuum of a movie, signifying absolutely nothing.