Ordinarily, I'd say we should all be mortally offended by The Day the Earth Stood Still, director Scott Derrickson's remake of Robert Wise's 1951 masterpiece, one of the very finest of all 1950s American films. We're not supposed to stand for shit like that, or something along those lines. But after wave upon wave of needless remakes spilling over each other before fading into quick obscurity or occasionally - sadly - entrenching themselves in the mind of our impressionable youth as THE version to see, The Day the Earth Stood Still Again is the one that finally broke me. This, as far as I am concerned, ain't no remake. The only thing the two versions of DTESS have in common is the story of an alien race that doesn't like how badly human beings are fucking up everything, leading them to scare us with an intimidating show of force that promises much worse to come if we don't try to fix ourselves. By that standard, the new DTESS is just as much a remake of Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space. Which is an even more appropriate comparison when we observe that DTESS-2 and Plan 9, unlike DTESS-1, are both awful.

After a little apéritif of a scene explaining how the aliens cloned an Indian mountaineer who looks like Keanu Reeves back in 1928, we're quickly thrown into the action as Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), one of the nation's preeminent astrobiologists - naturally, she's introduced by giving her grad students an assignment on the kinds of life we'd expect to find on other planets - is shanghaied by the military to some super-secret base where they're tracking the approach of a stellar object that is plummeting towards Manhattan at a freakish rate. In fact, it is set to crash right in Central Park in a mere 78 minutes. Helen and a host of other experts are flown to the sight, with the assumption that they'll all die any moment, but then the object - a shiny globe apparently made from glowing liquid - eases into a landing that only kills a few dozens bystanders and levels some trees. Anyone who's seen the original knows what comes next: a humanoid shape walks from the object, is immediately shot by the hair-trigger soldiers surrounding the site, and is then immediately followed by a gigantic robot who starts to wreak havoc before the smaller humanoid utters the calming phrase that has become one of the most beloved catch-phrases in cinema history: "Klaatu barada nikto".

Maybe it's not clear from that précis, but my bullshit alarms were well into the red by this point. The group of kidnapped geniuses Helen is basically the exact set of experts you'd want to have ready if a super-advanced alien being landed on earth. But at this point, the object is just a gigantic falling death bomb, ready to wipe out New York City in less than an hour and a half; why, oh why, does anyone think that an astrobiologist is more vital to such a crisis than, say, a giant fucking missile expert? And for that matter, the entire "thrilling" opening with the falling space bomb feint ends up adding nothing whatever to the movie but an additional five minutes of running time.

Random details that add nothing and just distract us will prove something of a recurring motif of David Scarpa's screenplay. Let's just look at some of the biggies: the US government is represented by Secretary (of Defense? It's never actually made clear) Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates), while the President and Vice President are in "undisclosed locations". Not slighting the film it's chance at a little extra 9/11 flavoring on its paint-by-numbers "let's threaten New York" framework, is there any actual reason that she couldn't just be the President? Or take the matter of Helen's stepson Jacob (played by Will and Jada Pinkett Smith's son Jaden, a wildly cute child who can't act even a little tiny bit). Jacob resents Helen, what with his dad - her husband - being dead, but I'm not certain that it would have changed matters (read: I'm certain that it wouldn't have changed matters) for Jacob to be her natural son, who happens to blame her for her husband's death. Of course, in reality, there are stepchildren who don't like their widowed stepparents, but in the context of the film it just keeps coming across as a needless bit of dross meant to add a layer of character development that never actually shows up. And for what? To explain why one actor is white and one is black? I don't think America is really that confused at the possibility of a mixed-race individual with dark skin.

Cataloging all of the plot holes and other script issues could keep us here all night, so let me cut to the chase: the ultimate plot is something vaguely ecological with the alien ambassador Klaatu (Reeves) informing Helen that his people want to destroy all humans because we've made such a shithole out of one of the galaxy's few inhabitable planets. That is why he has brought along a super-awesome armageddobot like Gort, realised in flashy CGI by Weta Digital that looks substantially more like the cutscenes from The Day the Earth Stood Still: The Video Game than the work of a professional studio film in 2008. I won't say what Gort does to nearly end humanity, other than that it is more interesting in conception than execution, and enables some of the most howling gaffes the screenplay makes - if it takes X seconds to disintegrate a truck, it should take much less time to give a single human a bloody nose, is all I'm saying. Also, the Earth's standstill isn't worked into the story with a tenth the elegance that it was in the '51 film, where that was Klaatu's trick to show us how badly he could fuck us all up if you wished; here, it feels like the film was about a week from completion, when somebody realised that the Earth hadn't stood still yet, so they'd better stick something in there to justify the title.

All this bitching about the script, and I haven't even started on the directing, the godawful editing, the flat performances, particularly Connelly, who hasn't been this bad in years; and the almost constant product placement (Microsoft and McDonald's especially hope you have an enjoyable time this holiday watching aliens destroy the planet). But there is one bright light, and it's the last one you'd expect: Keanu Reeves is absolutely perfect for this part. He's playing an alien masquerading in a fake human body, never quite figuring out what these "emotions" are that everyone keeps talking about, but allowing himself to be swayed despite the fact that he himself can feel nothing. In short, the ideal role for the remarkably limited actor, and if one can't say anything else good about this DTESS, at least it has a supremely credible extraterrestrial. It's no wonder that he was the director's first and only choice for all the long years that this project gestated. Now, why anybody let the project gestate for that long without taking it behind the shed and shooting it, I fear we will never be able to say.