I like the idea behind Mike Nichols' What Planet Are You From?, which, for lack of a better word, we'll call a comedy. A distant orb inhabited solely by men has decided to take over the universe, and it's starting with earth. One of the men, who happens to look and sound a lot like Garry Shandling on Prozac, has arrived here with the express purpose of impregnating a woman, any woman. Clueless as a Conehead, he propositions every female he meets in a way that results in 1) his getting slapped in the face, 2) his getting asked what planet he's from or 3) his getting taken up on his offer. For, keep in mind, this is the first man in the history of dating who wants to father a child. And it probably doesn't hurt that his penis literally hums when he gets near a woman. The filmmakers had a perfect opportunity to satirize the whole notion of men being from Mars, women from Venus.
Instead, they've made what turns out to be a humongous dick joke. If I never hear Ben Kingsley (playing the alien leader) say the word "penis" again, it'll be too soon. The same goes for watching Shandling have hot sex. Shandling, who's perfected the I-get-no-respect-in-bed routine in his stand-up act, seems to have phoned in his performance...from another planet. Playing a nonhuman has taken away the crippling self-consciousness that's such a large part of his appeal. But the real surprise (i.e., disappointment) is Mike Nichols, director of The Graduate, Working Girl, Postcards from the Edge, The Birdcage. Has he totally forgotten how to make people laugh? What Planet Are You From? isn't just not-funny, it's offensively not-funny, treating women like semen receptacles. Nichols has come a long way since Carnal Knowledge, which brought the battle of the sexes to a bitter draw. Here, no one's left standing.