My Favorite Martian (review)

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Good, Clean Family Fun?

What movie was it that I just saw? Gimme a minute… There was a big screen in the big dark room and… wait… Jeff Daniels was in it, I think… Yes, he was. Oh, and Elizabeth Hurley… Mmmmm, oh, and Christopher Lloyd. Wait! It was My Favorite Martian.

My Favorite Martian is the ultimate in movie fluff — while the credits are rolling you’ll forget what you just watched. It’s inoffensive and innocuous and… What was I saying?
A Martian (Lloyd), crash-landed on Earth, ends up at the home of television news producer Tim O’Hara (Daniels), who introduces him around as his “Uncle Martin.” There’s a romantic triangle involving Tim and coworkers Brace Channing (Hurley), dizzy bimbo reporter, and Lizzie (Daryl Hannah), camerachick extraordinaire — Martin complicates things for Tim while Tim tries to protect Martin’s secret from the other newshounds.

Based on the old TV show, Martian is good for a few — a very few — silly laughs. Lloyd amusingly plays Martin as Reverend Jim channeling Doc Brown. Martin, able to morph his appearance, disguises himself at points as both Tim and Brace, allowing Daniels to stretch his comedic muscles and Hurley to demonstrate that her engaging and diverting turn in Austin Powers was no fluke. There’s also Wallace Shawn in a send-up of the sci-fi genre’s geek scientist determined to learn the truth, and Ray Walston (TV’s original Martian) as a pseudo X-Files Cancer Man. The SETI program, poor underfunded little thing that it is in the real world, here gets transformed into something out of a paranoid fantasy, deploying jackbooted troopers with machine guns in mysterious black Hummers to investigate reports of alien activity. And there are lots of references thrown in to classic fantasy and SF films: Starman, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Willie Wonka, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

In fact, I was all set to put My Favorite Martian in with the sweet-natured Disney comedies of old, the ones I loved as a kid — The Cat from Outer Space, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes — harmless fun, if strictly for the kids. But then the friend I saw the movie with complained that Disney movies didn’t used to be like this, full of toilet humor and frequent open-mouthed, if jokey, kissing. Disney sets itself up, she noted, as the purveyor of wholesome family fare, but My Favorite Martian is definitely more risqué than the movies that we had grown up with, and yet it’s much too forgettable to appeal to anyone over the age of 12.

And my friend was right. Martian‘s bathroom humor would be right up the alley of my friend Sheila, who is four-and-a-half-years old and thinks poop is hilarious (farts are pretty funny, too). But I would be reluctant to take her to a movie that features scantily clad men and women and an oblique reference to oral sex mixed in with the ice-cream jokes and pratfalls.

Certainly, My Favorite Martian is purity itself compared to an episode of Dawson’s Creek or even the 11 o’clock news lately. And that was the trap I’d fallen into myself: the bar measuring taste has been raised so high that Martian‘s raciness seems mild and its preschool sense of humor seems wholesome. That’s too bad — our kids deserve better.

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