In the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, a flying saucer lands in Washington, D.C., and Gort, the robot who emerges from it, emits a ray that makes guns and tanks vanish; he’s like the patron saint of all those hippies who stuck flowers in rifle barrels. The best thing in the movie is Michael Rennie, who as the courtly extraterrestrial diplomat Klaatu exudes the sad yet deeply expressive charm of a haunted Peter O’Toole. In the expensive but plodding new remake, the spaceship — now an ethereal globe — lands in Central Park, and Gort isn’t so lovey-dovey; he’s like a super-tall, obsidian Oscar statue wreaking havoc. As for Klaatu, he’s now played by Keanu Reeves, who speaks every last line in a deliberately blank take-me-to-your-leader monotone that makes him sound like a kid imitating the rote sci-fi aliens of the ’50s Michael Rennie transcended. Reeves seems to be trying to wriggle out of the charge that he’s a flat actor by acting flat on purpose. But in The Day the Earth Stood Still, he is flat. And boring. And so is the film.
Once again, the intergalactic travelers have come to Earth bearing a message — only here, it’s an all-too-predictable environmental one. On the run with a benevolent scientist (Jennifer Connelly), Klaatu warns that if we don’t change our ways, he and his fellow visitors will destroy the human race in order to save the planet. (Call it the General Westmoreland school of green activism.) Reeves and Connelly aren’t asked to portray romantic feelings; they aren’t asked to do much besides stare glumly at one another as they attempt to escape the military forces on their trail. The original Day the Earth Stood Still had a paranoid poetry that lifted the audience up even as it warned the world to come together. This one is so dour it just comes off as a scolding. C?