Within barely the first five minutes of "Home," aliens invade Earth, alter the human landscape to their particular tastes and shove all people on a reservation (a comfy one, don’t worry) in Australia. The whole world has changed – all with the frantic, colorful enthusiasm of a person high on Pixy Stix and all before you’ve probably even pried the plastic wrapping off your box of Dots.
That’d be a bold, jarring start for a sci-fi blockbuster – much less a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed kids film – and the potentially surprising elements don’t stop there. The world is now gravitationally shifted, with chunks of land floating into the sky, and the only major human characters are outsider immigrants from Barbados, a rare and welcome burst of diversity and diverse perspectives taking the lead in a big movie.
On paper, there’s a lot to be intrigued by here. In actual action, however, "Home" is an unfortunately unaffecting, manic mess – a decidedly B-grade effort from Dreamworks, Hollywood’s predominantly B-grade animation house.
Those world-conquering aliens mentioned in the intro are called Boov, color-shifting little beings that walk on several stubby tentacles and are led by the ego-tastic, football-munching Captain Smek (voiced with comedic vigor by Steve Martin, his first film since 2011’s "The Big Year"). On the bottom of the Boov popularity spectrum is Oh (Jim Parsons, "The Big Bang Theory"), a clumsy but endearingly eager-to-please little guy whose name comes from the exasperated sighs he inspires from his alien community.
Oh manages to find a new low, however, when he accidentally emails a party invite to the entire galaxy (even UFOs have issues with clicking "Reply all"), including the spiky evil Gorg Commander they were fleeing in the first place. On the run from his own species, Oh collides with young Rihanna-voiced Tip (her real name is Gratuity, which … sure), left behind and abandoned when the aliens vacuumed up her mother (Jennifer Lopez) and shipped her with everyone else to Australia.
After some early edginess – as you’d expect considering one invaded the other’s home – Oh eventually convinces Tip to let him guide her to Australia to find her mother. At the same time, their journey keeps Oh away from his fellow Boov, who are scouring for the little alien in order to get his email password to stop their dark-minded enemy from receiving the party invite and RSVP-ing yes. Along their buddy road trip, the two grow into friends, learning about perception, acceptance and facing one’s fears.
All of those are potentially fine lessons – especially with the added cultural experience subtext for these particular characters. If only "Home" could work them into a better story.
The script from Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember is obvious and predictable; most viewers over 10 will see all of the well-worn story beats and clearly foreshadowed twists coming well ahead of time. The only surprise is how flimsy and light it feels – especially for a movie featuring the complete invasion of the planet and the sequestering of the human race. The Boov aren’t an actual threat to Tip or Oh, while the evil Gorg Commander is out of the picture and oblivious for most of the movie. Instead, the stakes are on waiting for an email to arrive, a contrivance that feels like the story desperately stretching itself to feature length.
The biggest issue, however, is the non-stop frantic pace "Home" blasts at. Earth may be the home alluded to in the title, but the movie seems to be in space because it can’t breathe.
The Boov, for instance, are barely even introduced before they’ve taken over the Earth, to the point where it almost seems like the first reel of the movie is missing. Actually, it wasn’t forgotten; it was seemingly spliced as a short film to a different movie: last year’s "Mr. Peabody & Sherman." So save for that movie’s avid fans – and judging by the tepid box office response and its almost invisible pop cultural footprint, that’s likely a small number – all of that backstory and natural scene-setting is critically missing.
The almost in medias res approach is almost commendable for trying to jump right in, but it also sets a furious pace that "Home" can’t manage, moving so fast it’s constantly tripping over itself. The movie hurriedly jumps from scene to scene to a flashback quickly trying to explain something midstream, then back to the previous interrupted scene before it’s quickly off to a new scene.
It doesn’t take long for the colorful but chaotic prancing through story beats to become exhausting, and the speedy result barely makes much time to develop or establish anything. Add in the loud pop songs routinely piped in – many from the film’s pop star lead voice actress – and "Home" begins to feel more like a Rihanna-sponsored music video montage of an actual movie. By the time the final act comes around and starts attempting to emotionally pay off, the rush has done a poor job of getting the audience to care or invest much.
At least "Home" provides a fairly steady stream of kookiness. That’s not to say it’s particularly funny; the script overly relies on Oh’s broken English and easy kids movie joke staples – dancing, goofy animals, slapstick with an excess of cartoon sound effects – for laughs. The humor tends to follow in line with Parsons and his usual sweetly nebbish aw-shucks routine: amusingly excitable and pleasant enough that you only kind of mind that it’s not particularly funny.
However, Martin is a burst of fun, his voice almost as goofily animated and colorful as his character. He easily scores most of the laughs in "Home." Then there’s the real star: the visuals. The animation itself isn’t much to write home about, often lacking depth and detail.
But the mere concepts are really nifty. There’s the Boov’s bubble-centric technology, creating floating islands of ground holding monuments and spheres of objects – trash cans, bicycles and umbrellas (missed opportunity there for another Rihanna song) – deemed useless. One "Inception"-esque sequence flips the Eifel Tower over, and a brief rest over the empty, reflective night ocean is actually kind of beautiful. There’s some really cool imagination in "Home"; it’s too bad it’s in the background, quickly vanishing as the movie sprints on.
Oh well; it’s a kids movie, and for a lot of Hollywood, that translates out to making essentially a mobile: a simply distracting mix of color and sound. And that's how you get "Home," another manic Sweet Tarts-colored whizbang to be mentally tossed away like an empty popcorn bucket as soon as the film lets out. Yes, the kids will be sated. For anyone older, however, the cue to leave "Home" to go home likely won’t come soon enough.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.