Let’s go to Mars.
John Carpenter holds a special place in my heart as The Thing is one of my favorite movies. However, he is not consistent in quality with his directed films. While we do have some classics, we also have a lot of duds.
Carpenter admitted to being burned out after this one and took a nine-year hiatus. Oddly, this kind of explains the film’s problems without any more information needed. The whole thing just smacks of a standard action flick designed to provide a base level of entertainment.
We follow Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) as she recounts what went wrong during the transportation of prisoner Desolation Williams (Ice Cube). We also get a younger Jason Statham who proves he can play one role in many different films. I guess here he is more perverted than the norm, but that doesn’t make it any good.
Hell, even Pam Grier can’t save this one.
We end up with a kind-of-zombies-kind-of-possession sort of enemy as the ghosts of Mars are taking control of the people at the settlement. Sounds fine, I guess. The plot can’t decide how it wants to relay this to us and we end up with about a dozen oddly placed plot threads (most of which don’t come to fruition). The only way I can really sum it up is we have B movie characters in something that wants to be deeper than it is but is also just a dumb action movie.
Carpenter’s burnout is palpable as we get a series of oddly sequenced set pieces featuring decent music, but terrible editing. Set designs are monochromatic (or I guess duochromatic?) as we get red or grey pretty much everywhere. Small details (like the torture devices) are cleverly constructed, but the small details aren’t enough to save this one.
I wrote “bad editing” three times while watching, so I suppose I may as well give it its own paragraph. Odd fade-ins, jump cuts, repeat cuts, and blur effects make this film unpleasant to watch. Everything is just so distracting as it is trying to force the then current style onto an old school director.
The pacing is also simply terrible. The only time when this movie is any fun is when we get some great (read: cheesy) sci-fi action, and this does not happen enough. We get flashbacks, further flashbacks, flashbacks in flashbacks, and somewhere along the way all you’ll start to smell is a fart.
I suppose I should be fair; the Martian language that is little more than a bunch of gibberish is also pretty hilarious. Costume designs are ridiculous, makeup effects range from okay to cringe-inducing, and the special effects are atrocious. It all meanders towards a familiar end that isn’t worth the journey. This was supposed to be the paragraph that I say nice things…
The acting is stunningly cheesy as it seems like everyone involved had no idea what the hell this movie was supposed to be about. To be fair, it is kind of hard to tell what we are meant to take from this film as we have odd mixtures of gender politics, race, police, and so forth without any of it being thoroughly examined.
Some might consider this one so-bad-it-is-kind-of-good, I disagree. The pacing is just too slow (at 90 minutes I think we could cut 50) for this one to be any fun. More gore and more action would have helped, but so would better writing, characters, pacing, editing, lighting, and so forth. This one might be the low point of Carpenter’s long career. Skip this one.