I really thought I was going to love this movie. It seemed tailor-made for me, really; Hong Kong director/actor Stephen Chow’s previous two films Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer are among my favorites, and I’m a sucker for the whole “monster pet” genre – Pokémon, Gremlins, Lilo & Stitch, Digimon, etc. are all gold to me. Unfortunately, I was left mostly disappointed by this story of a boy-and-his-alien by the time the credits rolled.
The movie starts out promising enough, with a father (Ti, played by Chow) and son (Dicky, played by actress(!) Xu Jiao) living in squalor so the boy can attend a nice school and get a decent education. Dicky’s a likeable kid and a good student until he becomes jealous of a schoolmate’s toy robot dog, CJ1, and throws a tantrum in a department store when his dad can’t afford to buy him one. Sadly, Ti must scour the local junkyard to find a toy for his son, and comes across a green, gumdrop-looking thing which, unbeknownst to Ti, was deposited there earlier by an alien spacecraft. He brings the object home to his son, telling him it’s a toy even better than CJ1 (Dicky christens it “CJ7”) and, just about the time Dicky becomes bored with it, the glob morphs into an adorable, big-eyed, soft-haired, ready-for-toy-shelves, cgi creature. This is where the movie took a downturn for me.
After CJ7 is “born” most of the humor derives from violence towards it. First we see Dicky mistreat it by stretching and pulling its limbs and face, then Ti finds it and, thinking it’s just a toy, stretches it even more and smashes it with a pan, then CJ7 gets taken to school where it’s terrorized by the kids there, and soon after, Dicky gets angry with it and tries to literally kill it. Sure, the violence is completely over the top and cartoony, just as in Soccer and Kung Fu, but here, it comes off more disturbing than funny, since it was apparent being cut, hit, stretched and smashed physically hurt CJ7. I mean, I’m all for violence against extraterrestrials but at least let them fight back. If CJ7 bit off Dicky’s arm after being stretched one last time, it would have been hilarious. Unfortunately, the most the alien can muster is shooting little Raisinettes of poo at the kid, which is, again, disturbing.
I’ve heard this movie is doing huge business in Hong Kong, where it’s second only to Titanic in box office receipts, but I don’t think it’s going to do as well as Chow’s past couple efforts here in North America. Yeah, the acting’s good (even if the dubbing isn’t so hot) especially from the children, which is rare, and the special effects are okay, but unlike say, Steven Spielberg’s E.T., there’s no emotional connection to the people, the story or anything going on, really. Even when the script takes a dark turn near the end, I wasn’t invested in the characters enough to be really touched.
If you’re a fan of Stephen Chow’s, you should go check this movie out to see some familiar faces from the casts of his past movies and to support Sony Pictures for releasing it in the States. If you’re not a fan, I’d suggest renting Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, and giving this a pass.