For a summer film with a $45 million dollar budget, Aliens in the Attic doesn’t even begin to live up to studio expectations, although one wonders why the marketing department essentially did nothing for this film. Presumably, the studio operated under the assumption that an audience who knows nothing would be driven into the theater by sheer curiosity and the lure of Ashley Tisdale, but dropping the promotional ball is rather inexcusable. After all, in the realm of the standard, live-action PG flicks, Aliens in the Attic is an enjoyable film with a brisk pace, broad physical comedy, and lots of laughs derived from amazingly few instances of bodily functions. Perhaps the warning sign for the studio was that, tellingly, the film’s eponymous aliens are merely a bunch of ridiculous CGI creations that are, at once, viciously malignant yet quite easily defeated by a group of children who use their video game skills to save the world. To make matters worse, director Director John Schultz lacks confidence in his own abilities, so the film’s semi-original premise devolves into a poorly executed mishmash of Goonies, Ghoulies, Home Alone, and The Spiderwick Chronicles. Fortunately, the film’s aliens are at least slightly more threatening than those of M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, but the filmmakers barely manage their precarious PG-rated balance, which requires the aliens to be largely innocuous while still intending to end the human race in a most brutal fashion. Also contributing to the film’s off-kilter vibe are screenwriters Mark Burton and Adam F. Goldberg, who interrupt the story’s climax with contrived melodrama that will later lead to “stunning” character growth and a valuable lesson learned.
Aliens in the Attic takes place at a lakeside Victorian-style vacation rental home where a semi-extended Pearson family gathers for the Fourth of July holiday. First to arrive are parents Stuart (Kevin Nealon) and Nina (Gillian Vigman), along with their children, teenagers Tom (Carter Jenkins) and Bethany (Ashley Tisdale), plus the obligatory adorable little sister Hannah (Ashley Boettcher). A bit later, Uncle Nathan (Andy Richter) pulls up with a shitload of beer as well as his teenage son, Jake (Austin Butler) and tween twin boys, Art & Lee (Henri & Regan Young). Completing the cast of human characters are Nana (Doris Roberts) and Sheriff Armstrong (Tim Meadows), but, like the other adults, they don’t really matter much in the grand scheme. The story revolves around Tom, a semi-troubled yet typically awkward teen, who pretends not to be smart for reasons that are unclear but not worth the eventual big reveal from our trusty screenwriters. When the family vacation home is attacked by the aforementioned aliens (the leader is voiced by Thomas Haden Church, who is on my personal shit list of late), Tom quickly deduces that the aliens have the ability to use adult humans as hosts for their malevolent goals, which is quite the handy excuse to tune out the adult characters as clueless obstacles. And, although Tom would rather spend his vacation pouting, he must take control of the situation and embrace the cliché of using his on-the-fly math skills to effectively deploy potato-filled paint guns, firecrackers, and Mentos cocktails to both physically repel the aliens as well as deactivate their main weapon.
This is a surprisingly likable film for both kids and adults, but it’s certainly an imperfect product. With the exception of a rather groovy anti-gravity scene, the film’s effects aren’t that great, the plot is predicable, and, as far as the film’s intended audience is concerned, the only star attraction, Ashley Tisdale, is so bloody lifeless in her role as Bethany that she may as well be an valuable wall painting brought out only on special occasions. Bethany is spoken of quite often but stays hidden for most of the film. One might even make the stretch to label Bethany as one of those insidious MacGuffins, as she is, apparently, a snatch worthy of both her boyfriend’s relentless pursuit and her family’s endless adoration. Yet, Bethany isn’t even worthy enough to help fight the aliens or do anything more than function as a passive connector between the Pearsons and her own asshole boyfriend.
What actually makes Aliens in the Attic worth the price of admission is something of a dark horse, that is, actor Robert Hoffman, a classically trained dancer who usually plays the white-bread boy in such dance classics as Step Up 2, You Got Served, and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Here, Hoffman is truly in his element as Bethany’s douchebag boyfriend Ricky Dillman, whose body falls under the alien’s command and, quite literally, takes on the antics of a remote-controlled marionette. Impressively, Hoffman is what keeps the film’s momentum rolling by periodically and enthusiastically tossing himself into a series of self-abusing postures, punches, and pulls. As stupid as all this sounds, in a scene where Nana and Ricky face off in a ninja fighting sequence, the film mines some true comedy gold. Hoffman’s slapstick self-abuse only grows more amusing as the story progresses, and he even gets a tacked-on scene before the ending credits roll. If this actor can manage to avoid the Jim Carrey trap of attempting to develop into a dramatic actor, then Hoffman has a rather bright comedy career ahead.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.