Red Planet



US 2000

dir Antony Hoffman

scr Chuck Pfarrer (also story), Jonathan Lemkin

cin Peter Suschitzky

stars Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Carrie-Ann Moss

106 minutes

Red faces, more like. Can it be a coincidence that the two most enjoyable Mars movies ever remain Capricorn One and Total Recall, both of which pivot on the fact that, despite appearances to the contrary, the principals never actually even leave Earth? This time it’s 2047 or so, and Earth is on its customary last legs. Our only hope is a sideways hop to Mars, but the preliminary ‘terraforming’ process hits a snag and an intrepid party headed by Moss goes to investigate…

There’s nothing wrong with join-the-dots science fiction movies as such – just so long as the dots are actually joined up. Red Planet, however, is just a lazily loose patchwork of contrivances, each more predictable, implausible and desperately split-second than the last as the actors are picked off in exact reverse-credits order. A slumming Terence Stamp wisely makes an early exit – but the logic of Down Under co-production means that token Aussie Simon Baker hangs around long enough for his character’s motivations to end up making no sense whatsoever.

It doesn’t help that Moss spends the whole movie on the orbiting spacecraft while the boys go through the motions on the planet’s surface, or that we never get even a glimpse of the NASA control team back on Earth. At one point Kilmer stumbles across an antique Russian spacecraft (the animated cosmonaut bear computer screen is one of the movie’s rare nice touches) and he’s told that the designer, Borokovsky, has been found running a Brooklyn deli. We might forgive this contrivance if the script had bothered to actually put the subplot to some use, perhaps show Borokovsky being tracked down in his shop. But the opportunity is wasted, raising suspicions that so much money was spent on effects – it must have cost plenty to stop the actors’ helmets reflecting the cameras and crew, for instance – that there just wasn’t enough left for any Earth footage.

More charitable audiences may suspect that touches such as the female-voiced computer indicate we’re on Alien-parody territory – but the ludicrous voiceovers Moss has to spout suggest the scriptwriters (Pfarrer also cocked up the similarly rotten Virus) actually wrote it with a straight face. It’s hard to know who’s being insulted more, audience or actress (the lines might make sense if the computer spoke them), but the clearly unfazable Moss at least deserves credit for emerging with dignity intact. Debutant director Hoffman plugs on regardless, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his efforts are constantly undermined by the script’s deficiencies, Graeme Revell’s portentous muzak on the soundtrack, and, most fatal of all, Kilmer’s idiotic shit-eating grin.