RATING |

In the new version of "The Day the Earth Stood Still," Klaatu the alien is back, this time with a pretty extreme environmental agenda.

In the 1951 original, Klaatu was more concerned with our nuclear misadventures, but his message was pretty much the same: we humans have been poor stewards of Planet Earth, and we might have to be removed from our place atop the food chain.

Also, in 1951, Klaatu was the unflappable, super suave Michael Rennie, a guy with a beautifully tailored suit who viewed mankind with the polite disdain of a European diplomat.

Now he is Keanu Reeves, and instead of unflappable, he's kind of inexpressive - it's as if Reeves knows he's back in the sci-fi racket, and is taking his cues (and his clothes) from Agent Smith.

As for Mankind, well, we're as hospitable as ever. Klaatu arrives in a twirling orb, and as he steps out into Central Park, he's fired upon by a trigger-happy Yank. This leads to the movie's best sequence - the alien is whisked to a government hospital, where doctors remove a coating of placenta-like goo, fix him up and scrub him down until they get to the part that's pure Keanu.

It's ickily atmospheric, tactile, old-school special effects movie-making, maybe something that director Scott Derrickson had left over from his days making "Hellraiser 4."

The coating around Klaatu is almost as slimy as Kathy Bates, emissary of the U.S. government, who decides to imprison and interrogate him, Guantamamo-style, in the arrogant belief that there's no civilization we can't outwit or outmanuever.

The flip side of humanity is represented by Jennifer Connelly as a compassionate scientist who treats Klaatu and senses that the only sane path is to reason with him, to persuade Klaatu that we're all worth saving.

Tall order, perhaps, but if mankind is to send a single representative, we could do a lot worse than Jennifer Connelly. I might have gone with Jessica Alba (Klaatu's taken male form, after all), but when Connelly looks up at Klaatu with her big, wet, goo-goo eyes and pleads for mercy, you know we've got a pretty good shot.

Complete salvation is, of course, out of the question, since the studio has invested millions in apocalyptic computer-generated special effects. Something's got to be destroyed (turns out it's Giants Stadium), and in what's meant to be the movie's "ohh-ahh" sequence, a plague of metal locusts moves across New Jersey toward Manhattan.

It's one of several biblical references in "The Day the Earth Stood Still," which puts a lot of faith in scientists but perhaps not in science. After all, you can remove humans from the face of the earth, but unless you also get rid of the primates and other higher life forms, Klaatu will just have to come back in a million years, when we're re-evolved and up to our old tricks. *

Produced by Paul Harr*s Boardman, Gregory Goodman and Erw*n Stoff, d*rected by Scott Derr*ckson, wr*tten by Dav*d Scarpa and Edmund North, mus*c by Tyler Bates, d*str*buted by Twent*eth Century-Fox.