'Aliens in the Attic'

"Aliens in the Attic" is a homogenized PG-rated trifle.

Although it’s aimed at that vaguely defined, ever-elusive constituency known as the “family audience,” “Aliens in the Attic” doubtless will appeal primarily to a more narrow demographic of tweens and pre-teens. Despite the prominent presence of Ashley Tisdale, the nubile note of discord in the “High School Musical” franchise, it’s difficult to imagine many ticketbuyers between the ages of 12 and 18 queuing up for this homogenized PG-rated trifle (unless, of course, they buy tickets to sneak into an R-rated pic elsewhere in the megaplex). Pic posted a tepid $7.8 million in its opening frame, but homevid biz may be passable.

The plot pivots on close encounters of the farcical kind as high schooler Tom Pearson (Carter Jenkins) begrudgingly joins his family for a holiday at their three-story vacation home in rural Michigan — only to find the upper floor has been taken over by four pint-sized extraterrestrials, the advance party of an impending alien invasion.

Previously ashamed of his status as a science nerd, Tom finds his brainpower comes in very handy while he fashions improvised weapons against the little green home invaders, whose resemblance to the eponymous critters in “Gremlins” surely isn’t coincidental. (It doesn’t help at all that at least one of the unfriendly aliens also resembles the anthropomorphized mucus in a recent series of TV commercials.)

While leading the counteroffensive, the unlikely young hero gradually becomes unofficial leader of a children’s crusade that includes big sister Bethany (Tisdale), 7-year-old sibling Hannah (Ashley Boettcher), aggressively cool cousin Jake (Austin Butler), and vidgame-obsessed twins Art (Henri Young) and Lee (Regan Young). Meanwhile, the adults under the roof — including Carter’s clueless parents (Kevin Nealon, Gillian Vigman), easygoing Uncle Nate (Andy Richter) and, eventually, a local sheriff (Tim Meadows) — remain blissfully unaware that the fate of the Earth hangs in the balance.

On the other side of the fray, the four aliens are armed with a brain-implant dart gun that allows them to manipulate humans with a device that conveniently resembles a vidgame controller. This does cue some genuinely funny physical comedy (tweaked by the f/x wizards of Rhythm & Hues Studios) by Doris Roberts as a doting grandmother who becomes a high-flying, butt-kicking martial artist and Robert Hoffman as Bethany’s sleazy overage boyfriend. Latter is especially hilarious as his jerky character becomes a herky-jerk puppet.

Directed at an appropriately brisk pace by John Schultz (“Like Mike,” “The Honeymooners”), “Aliens in the Attic” is so thinly written by Mark Burton and Adam F. Goldberg that the characters are defined entirely by the actors playing them (or, in the case of the f/x-spawned aliens, voicing them). Performances are unremarkable but acceptable pretty much across the board, and the vocal talents — particularly Thomas Haden Church as the belligerent Tazer and Josh Peck as the lovable Sparks — are well cast. At times, however, it’s all too easy to imagine Schultz directing Boettcher by shouting (through a megaphone, perhaps) such commands as, “More cute! More adorable! More winsome!”

Special effects and alien gadgetry suggest the production team opted to emphasize tongue-in-cheek humor over technical razzle-dazzle. Pic was shot in New Zealand, though it’s likely even most Michiganders won’t be able to tell the difference.

Release was preceded by no advance screenings and scant promo.

Aliens in the Attic

Production

A 20th Century Fox release, presented with Regency Enterprises, of a Josephson Entertainment production. Produced by Barry Josephson. Executive producers, Arnon Milchan, Marc S. Fischer. Co-producer, Joe Hartwick Jr. Directed by John Schultz. Screenplay, Mark Burton, Adam F. Goldberg, from a story by Burton.

Crew

Camera (color), Don Burgess; editor, John Pace; music, John Debney; music supervisor, Billy Gottlieb; production designer, Barry Chusid; supervising art director, Nigel Evans; art directors, Dave Cooke, Roger Guise, Mike Bercroft; set decorator, Milton Candish; set designers, Ben Barrett, Barry Read, Tony Williams; costume designer, Mona May; sound (Dolby), Tony Johnson, Ken Saville; visual effects supervisor, Douglas Hans Smith; visual effects and animation, Rhythm & Hues Studios; associate producer, John R. Woodward; assistant director, casting, Julie Ashton-Barson. Reviewed at AMC Studio 30, Houston, July 31, 2009. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Tom Pearson - Carter Jenkins Jake Pearson - Austin Butler Bethany Pearson - Ashley Tisdale Hannah Pearson - Ashley Boettcher Art Pearson - Henri Young Lee Pearson - Regan Young Nana Rose Pearson - Doris Roberts Ricky Dillman - Robert Hoffman Stuart Pearson - Kevin Nealon Nina Pearson - Gillian Vigman Uncle Nathan Pearson - Andy Richter Sheriff Doug Armstrong - Tim Meadows Voices: Tazer - Thomas Haden Church Sparks - Josh Peck Skip - J.K. Simmons Razor - Kari Wahlgren

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