March 13, 2000 12:00 PM

Garry Shandling, Annette Bening, John Goodman, Greg Kinnear

Featured attraction

Males on a planet four galaxies away from ours are receiving pointers on how to relate to the chatty women they will encounter on Earth. “Repeat the phrase ‘uh-huh,’ ” the instructor advises, “to make them think you’re paying attention.”

Different galaxy, same old behavior. That’s the point of What Planet Are You From?, a sweetly goofy cosmic comedy in which the battle between the sexes goes intergalactic. Shandling (The Larry Sanders Show), who cowrote the movie, plays an alien who arrives on Earth with a mission: As a first step in his planet’s plan to conquer Earth, he must impregnate a woman. Back home, his species is so highly evolved that offspring are cloned and everyone’s reproductive organs have disappeared. For his stay here, Shandling dons a prosthetic penis (which hums noisily when he gets excited, providing one of the movie’s bawdier running gags) and assumes the guise of a banker in Phoenix. He soon discovers it takes a whole lot more than murmuring “uh-huh” to keep Earth women happy, especially after he settles on Bening, a determined recovering alcoholic, as the intended mother of his child.

Once Shandling and Bening pair off, What Planet becomes a domestic comedy about the gap between what women and men-even alien men—want. The movie assumes the familiar rhythms of a sitcom (“Is that the waiter?” “No, that’s just a gay guy without a jacket”), at which point director Mike Nichols (The Birdcage) wisely picks up the pace, knowing that there’s not really enough going on here to dwell too long on any one scene. Shandling, in his debut as a big-screen leading man, displays an edgy but self-confident charm, while Bening gives verve and bite to even this modest material. There are amusing supporting performances by Kinnear as a lascivious fellow banker, Linda Fiorentino as his sexy wife and Goodman as a government investigator who’s onto Shandling. (R)

Bottom Line: Shows intelligent signs of humor in the universe

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