Further milking and aging the “Ben 10” franchise into teen territory, Cartoon Network has churned out a second live-action movie infused with a slick comicbook feel while at times feeling more like product placement for cars and motorcycles than a movie. Still, “Ben 10: Alien Swarm” has upped “Ben 10’s” game in terms of visual effects, and it races along briskly enough that it should connect with the older boy/younger-teen audience that the Turner-owned channel is cultivating (actually, pandering to) with a slew of live-action reality shows.
Alex Winter reprises his role as director-producer, working from a script by James Krieg (an alum of the “Ben 10” series) and John Turman, whose credits include “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.” The influence of the latter is apparent, inasmuch as the movie’s central trio approximates a superhero team — maybe the Threat-Thwarting Three or something.
For the uninitiated, Ben Tennyson (Ryan Kelley) — a kid in the original animated version, a teenager here — is the keeper of something called the Omnitrix, a way-cool watchlike alien device that allows him to transform into a variety of bad-ass extraterrestrial creatures. Working as part of a group named the Plumbers to repel alien threats, he’s flanked by his pals Gwen (Galadriel Stineman) and Kevin (Nathan Keyes), each of whom brings his or her own unique powers to the monster mash.
Enter Elena (Alyssa Diaz), a girl from Ben’s pubescent youth, who’s searching for her father, Validus (Herbert Siguenza). Only Validus ran afoul of Ben’s grandpa, Max (Barry Corbin, under a fright wig), who thinks he betrayed the Plumbers.
Alien invaders are on the loose, meanwhile, swarming like metallic insects and turning humans into zombielike drones, doing the bidding of their unseen “queen.”
Although the visual design is strong (one villain resembles Rorschach from “Watchmen”) and the pace rumbles along, Winter indulges in too many vehicular chases set to loud music that do little more than kill time — presumably as an alternative to expensive visual effects and clunky dialogue.
Fortunately, there’s reasonably good chemistry among the leads and plenty of heroism, even if it falls to Ben to do most of the heavy lifting in the well-shot climactic battle.
Cartoon Network clearly wants to attract a slightly more mature audience, diving into live-action series to augment movies like this and the recent “Scooby Doo” reboot. The sad part is that its scripted efforts have been overshadowed of late by the summer’s misguided swarm of reality — the kind of menace even Ben would be hard-pressed to vanquish.