Review: Why it's OK that Aliens in the Attic is no E.T.

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Even forgiving a kids' movie, there are still high watermarks up to which a film must measure. Not everything's going to be E.T., but it can be Spy Kids or Flight of the Navigator. Aliens in the Attic manages to be a cute, clever movie despite its complicit dumbing-down.

They breeze through the setup, where Tom Pearson (Carter Jenkins) is a distracted kid who's smart but doesn't deliver on his report card. His parents are smart but resigned to lecturing. His sister, Bethany (Ashley Tisdale), seems friendly but she's only interested in dating Ricky (Robert Hoffman), so she's only second fiddle to the alien story.

When the extended family gets together at a remote vacation home, the kids encounter aliens. Of course, their parents would never believe this, so it's up to the kids to stop the invasion, while explaining their antics away to the grown-ups. Also, the aliens have a mind-control device that allows them to manipulate adults, but it won't work on kids. Perhaps that is a metaphor for the generation gap, or just a plot device.

The kids are clever. Even Ricky the D-bag boyfriend knows how to trick parents into letting him spend the night with Bethany. When the aliens start causing trouble, the kids come up with real solutions, and you may actually be riveted by the silly drama of zero-gravity grenades.

The mind-control device turns Hoffman into a slapstick comedy genius. The ridiculous antics he performs under alien control are joyfully stupid. Even with visual effects enhancement, Hoffman is fully committing to being the best ass he can be. There are also good poop jokes.

The aliens kind of reflect human insecurities. One of them mixes up his words, more likely a lame attempt at humor than a blatant Yoda ripoff. It's a little cheap that there are only four of them. It's okay if you keep the film to one location, but at least paint some more creatures into it.

The effects are good, though. Whatever the generic inspirations for the alien design were, they look like they are really in the house, which is more than can be said for bigger-budget tentpole movies.

If anything, the film tries too hard to be sanitized. I mean, no kid still says "heck." Come on. Yet it's totally okay to exploit Tisdale's bikini body. Go figure.

Mixed as its aesthetic mandates may be, Aliens in the Attic ends up being a really fun kids' movie. It shows kids that they can overcome adversity without disrespecting their parents, and that it's good to be smart. The filmmakers made the most out of limited resources to craft a compelling adventure.