Aliens in the Attic is one of those titles that pretty much sums up the entire movie. It's not some sort of pun or metaphor or literary allusion. This is a film about aliens that invade an attic of a house and wage war (in a not-so-scary way) against the family residing below. It's a straightforward film geared toward third-graders, a movie with nothing on its mind but some good old-fashioned "let's shoot paintballs at the bad guys!" kid power. There's nothing in here for adults to enjoy, but plenty of hijinks and hilarity for anyone born in the 21st century.
The premise of Aliens, directed by John Schultz (Drive Me Crazy), is familiar. An average family takes a vacation at a rental house in Michigan over Independence Day weekend. The Pearson family consists of dad (Kevin Nealon), mom (Gillian Vigman), teenage son Tom (Carter Jenkins), and boy-crazy teenage daughter Bethany (Ashley Tisdale). There are predictable inter-family conflicts. Brother and sister are fighting because brother disapproves of sister's buffoonish college-aged boyfriend (Robert Hoffman). Father and son are at odds because son has been failing classes at school on purpose; he's tired of being picked on for being a brainiac nerd. The strained family dynamic is in need of some sort of galvanizing crisis to bring them back together again—something like an alien attack!
At the rental house, the Pearsons are joined by Uncle Nathan (Andy Richter), his three boys, and Nana (Doris Roberts). Bethany's annoying boyfriend Ricky also shows up and quickly becomes the target of the younger boys' paintball guns. Before long, a team of cartoony-looking CGI alien scouts drops down into the attic and begin planning for an invasion. The younger cousins discover the aliens—a band of four knee-high creatures that look vaguely amphibious/reptilian—and thus begins a raucous fight to keep these aliens from destroying the world. For the next hour, the kids use every weapon at their disposal—including bubbles, tennis rackets, spud guns, skateboards, Mentos/Diet Coke bombs, and years of playing Halo—to fend off the aliens and hopefully keep the adults from ever having a clue that a trans-terrestrial battle was going on upstairs.
Aliens is your typical "kids save the world" action film. Adults are not really necessary in the film, aside from being the foils and/or comic playthings of the kids. Conveniently, the kids are immune to the aliens' secret mind-control/avatar weapon, so they are really the only ones capable of fighting the creatures anyway. The adults—including an unhelpful local policeman (Tim Meadows)—mostly just bumble around wondering why the TV is on the fritz. They're never made privy to the aliens' presence, and thus a private fantasy world is preserved in which the kids are free to have their own gnarly adventure that only they are innocent enough to understand and take seriously.
Lest we forget that this is a film meant for kids, we are reminded at nearly every turn that being a kid is, like, way cooler than being old. Whether it is a joke about adult diapers or a snarky declaration that dad's suggestion to go fishing is "lame," the film is full of cheapshots at adulthood. One scene in which the kids all pull out their cell phones only to find that they have no reception is particularly funny. They are forced to try to call the police on the landline rotary phone, but you'd think they were monkeys trying to make sense of Ulysses. They're stumped.
Though a film like this feels familiar (it brings to mind 1970s Disney flicks, or Little Monsters with Fred Savage, or about a dozen other movies I haven't seen), it also feels like a product of the 21st century, mainly in the way that it plays like a video game. The plot is pretty much the plot/objective of your average Xbox adventure: Find the bad guys, destroy them, experience crazy stuff like "zero gravity weapons," and then save the world. The kids in this film are conversant in this language already, so they know what to do when extraterrestrial trouble comes knocking. "This isn't Xbox," says one of the kid actors at one point. "It's real. Like Wii!"
An ongoing gag in the film is a technology that the alien invaders bring which allows them to plant chips in humans and control them like zombie avatars. Early in the film, "annoying college boyfriend" Ricky falls victim to this technology and becomes the plaything of both the aliens and the younger kids, who commandeer the controller and make Ricky move and say whatever they want him to. This provides many physical gags and laughs. Later, Nana also falls victim to the technology and for a few scenes becomes the best thing about the movie. Near the end, a Matrix-style kung fu match between Nana and Ricky will doubtless have the kids shrieking in delight.
Aliens isn't really meant to be anything other than a mindless summertime diversion. Apart from some compulsory subtext of "be comfortable with who you are," this is not a movie with very many thoughts. If there is a "lesson" in the film, it is that families should stick together, or that being a math-loving nerd is okay (as Tom comes to realize by the end). But mainly the lesson of the film is that everyone should try the Mentos-mixed-with-Diet Coke trick. It's pretty awesome.Discussion starters
- Why is Tom feeling down on himself for being a smart kid? Why do kids like him intentionally sabotage their grades in order to be "cool"?
- How are the family relationships between Tom and Bethany and Tom and Tom's dad healed by the end of the film?
- What does the movie teach us about the importance of family?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Aliens in the Attic is rated PG for action violence, some suggestive humor and language. Young kids use such language as "sucks" and "crud." The opening line of the film is "Oh my God!" Apart from this, the most objectionable content is probably the slight sexual suggestions in the relationship between Bethany and Ricky, including references to spending the night together and a scene of lathering each other up with suntan lotion by the pool. A general attitude of disrespect among the kids toward the parents is also present throughout, though everyone is happy and loving at the end. There is a lot of action, but none especially violent, and there is no blood.
Photos © Twentieth Century Fox
Copyright © 2009 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.