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A slab of ribs, pulled pork, and pulled beef are some of the specialties at the Firehouse Southern Style BBQ on W. Colorado Ave. Monday, December 8, 2008 Photo by (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

Remember the old cartoons in which one character would sneak up behind another and whack him on the head with a mallet, instantly producing a towering egg circled by miniature, chirping birds?

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" is the cinematic equivalent of that violent animated altercation - just as heavy-handed and every bit as painful.

In this remake of the seminal 1951 sci-fi classic, an alien named Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) arrives on Earth to deliver a simple but devastating message - humankind is to be wiped off the face of the planet.

Unlike in the first film, Klaatu does not deliver his doomsday message to the people of Earth corporately, but rather to Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), a Princeton astrobiologist who is the only one to see more in Klaatu's arrival than meets the eye.

Klaatu insists humans are bent on self-destruction and must therefore be annihilated before they destroy all life on Earth.

As Helen tries desperately to get Klaatu to change his mind, the extraterrestrial visitor's gigantic robot Gort begins carrying out his destructive orders with devastating precision.

The film follows well-worn sci-fi paths.

The alien arrives and is instantly viewed as a threat.

The military, run by bumbling nincompoops, masses and soon is slugging it out with the scientists who just want to befriend the visitor.

Somebody with a gun has an itchy trigger finger. Soon lots of people with missiles and heavy weaponry get itchy trigger fingers, too.

Their attacks may not make any tactical sense whatsoever, but boy do the explosions look pretty.

Some people just can't leave well enough alone. Director Scott Derrickson ("The Exorcism of Emily Rose") has made a simply awful movie, taking a classic film, plundering its best parts and substituting the rest with recycled flotsam.

The original film, made during the Cold War, pleaded with humankind to cease its civil warfare or face terrible repercussions. Back then, the biggest threat was mutual assured destruction through nuclear annihilation.

Fast-forward to a new era with new global perils. Derrickson bets that his film can have the same impact by going green.

Klaatu's message boils down to this: Only so many planets in the galaxy are capable of sustaining complex life, and a conglomerate of alien species cannot risk losing the Earth to a human race indifferent to how its lifestyle is destroying it.

Humanity must die so the planet and its flora and fauna population can once again thrive.

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Unlike in the first film, there is no "change or else" ultimatum, begging the question, did Klaatu come all the way to Earth just to rub it in?

As in the original, Klaatu is an obvious Christ figure - walking on water, healing the sick, sacrificing himself for other people's sins and eventually ascending into the heavens.

Too bad he's the dumbest Christ figure in cinematic history.

Klaatu isn't exactly the sharpest tool in the interstellar tool shed.

He is surprised that humanity creates art or is capable of love. That's what you get for skipping Humanity 101.

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" is incapable of elegance.

There is nothing remotely subtle about it.

Derrickson makes his points with blunt force trauma alone.

To make matters worse, a film that values its CGI far more than its characters doesn't even manage to pull off decent special effects.

It doesn't help that Derrickson is working off a ridiculously poorly written script that is given voice by actors either too bad or too bored to do it justice.

Ironically, Reeves actually stands out from the rest, if for no other reason than his requirement for the part was to be without emotion, something he can pull off in spades.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden SmithDirector: Scott DerricksonPlaying at: Hollywood, Gold Hill, Carmike, Chapel Hill, Cinemark, TinseltownRating: PG-13 (for some sci-fi disaster images and violence)Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

GRADE: D+

 

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