TV preview: Tom Shales on 'Ben 10: Alien Swarm' on Cartoon Network

DEFENDERS OF EARTH: Grandpa Max (Barry Corbin) and Gwen (Galadriel Stineman) team with Ben 10 to fight off aliens.
DEFENDERS OF EARTH: Grandpa Max (Barry Corbin) and Gwen (Galadriel Stineman) team with Ben 10 to fight off aliens. (Quantrell Colbert/cartoon Network)
By Tom Shales
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"They're coming for us, Max!" cries Dr. Lapidus. "They're coming for us all!"

Oh boy, what's coming?! Whatever it is, bring it on, because there's nothing like a good monster movie to tickle the old imagination.

And "Ben 10: Alien Swarm," while not entirely like a good monster movie, certainly resembles one. The gadgets are cool; the hot green car is cool; the alien creatures are cool; and Ben 10's holographic watch is tres, tres cool.

"Ben 10: Alien Swarm" premieres Wednesday night on the Cartoon Network, but it is not a cartoon. It's cartoonish, but that's okay, and it's based on an animated series that plays weekly on the network, but there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, either. In fact, "Ben 10" has much that seems intrinsically right.

Ryan Kelley, who plays the 16-year-old intergalactic peacekeeper of the title, has and gives a good time in the part. His real name is Ben Tennyson -- Ben 10 for short. He goes cool-tooling around outer space like he owns the joint. Joining Ben on patrol are Nathan Keyes as cynical snip Kevin Levin and an actress with the musical name Galadriel Stineman as Gwen, brainy dame of the team.

Even more invaluable to the cast is veteran character actor Barry Corbin as cranky old Grandpa Max, who presides over a fabulous green computer wall. Corbin's look has changed over the years -- he has long gray hair now, for one thing -- but you'll probably recognize him from many, many previous roles -- a general in "War Games" for one. He's the Obi-Wan Kenobi of "Alien Swarm."

You don't need to know Ben's back story from the animated series or to have seen "Ben 10: Race Against Time" when it aired during Thanksgiving week in 2007. All you have to do is like creatures, things that fly around under their own power and high-tech playthings -- or be a kid.

The alien swarm is made up of tiny but lethal metal chips that an alien intelligence is using in naughty and impolite ways. Individually, they look like cockroaches, and they're capable of burrowing under one's skin -- yuck. They seem to follow the unspoken commands of a big creepy guy who doesn't seem to have a name but whom we'll call Mr. Meanie; he wears a big black hat and a strange, sticky mask. And one other thing: Mr. Meanie has chips in his cape!

You don't want to mess with him.

But of course our little band of heroes -- not entirely dissimilar from the geeks who run around with Scooby-Doo -- has to stop the alien bugs, and the citizen-zombies they have hypnotized . . . before it's Too Late!

Briskly but not smugly directed by Alex Winter, "Ben 10" is a happy, snappy adventure film full of whiz-bang effects (including what looks like a stop-motion lizard guy, into whom Ben briefly turns) and, mercifully, very little blood or gore.

Do the bad guys lose, is Earth saved from destruction, are the pesky bugs banished and is there a happy ending? We'll never tell -- but then, we don't really have to, do we?

Ben 10: Alien Swarm (69 minutes)

7 p.m., Cartoon Network.

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