Mission to Mars

Because of its proximity to Earth, man has always held a fascination for the planet Mars. Great works of fiction have been written about it. Hollywood has embraced Mars as its own. Astronauts dream one day of walking on its surface.

missiontomarsAssuming that NASA is right, man will one day set foot on the angry red planet, ending centuries of speculation and anticipation. Like the time man first landed on the moon, I imagine the world will be glued to their television sets. There will be a universal gasp of expectation and exhilaration as mankind takes their first steps on Mars.

Today’s movie audiences might turn to the new science-fiction adventure “Mission to Mars” to fulfill some of those expectations, but they will be sadly disappointed. Despite it’s A-list credentials, “Mission to Mars” is bottom of the barrel claptrap.

There isn’t one original thought in the screenplay by Jim & John Thomas and Graham Yost. The ideas, characters and dialogue are so tired you wonder how this mess ever got green-lighted in the first place. Some of the dialogue is so trite you actually wince when you hear it. Credit the actors for not doing the same when they recite it.

It’s not surprising that this mess comes from director Brian De Palma, whose last film was the laborious “Snake Eyes.” De Palma seems more interested in where to put the camera than what is going on in front of it. “Mission To Mars” arrives with De Palma’s trademark camera work (realized by long-time collaborator Stephen H. Burum), but it’s not enough to salvage the dreadful script and flat performances.

“Mission to Mars” is set in 2020. We know it’s the future because the cars look different and people drink Budweiser in cartons instead of bottles. The film begins with a going away party for four astronauts who have been chosen to man the first trip to Mars. De Palma captures the party in one long, continuous shot, introducing us to the films characters.

It’s cinematic device that De Palma frequently employs, yet it wears thin in “Mission to Mars” because the characters are such cliches we already feel like we know them. Fortunately, the paper thin script doesn’t waste much time before the crew is on their way to Mars. Once on the surface, they encounter something devastating, killing all but one of them.

Don Cheadle plays Luke Graham, the lone survivor, whose friends immediately deploy a rescue mission. The team includes space jockey Jim McConnell (Gary Sinise, whose character is saddled with a dead wife and the grief that comes with it); husband and wife team Woody Blake (Tim Robbins) and Terri Fisher (Connie Nielsen); and young hot shot Phil Ohlmyer (Jerry O’Connell, out of his league here).

The filmmakers waste little time in getting the rescue team to Mars, where they also face their share of disasters. A meteor storm renders their spaceship useless, while a rescue attempt in space goes bad. Things really get bad when they make it to the planet’s surface, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

Once on Mars, the film becomes a mishmash of ideas stolen from much better films. The writers attempt to answer some questions, but their solutions are so ridiculous you can’t help but laugh. The script plays off popular mythology about Mars, yet none of it is delivered in a convincing style.

“Mission to Mars” isn’t a performance film. It’s a paycheck film. Sinise, Robbins and Cheadle seem like they’re in it for the money. There’s very little emotional ballast in their performances. You actually feel sorry for Nielsen, who has to deliver some of the films dumbest dialogue.

In the past, De Palma has shown strength as an actor’s director. With “Mission to Mars,” the performances are all over the map. There’s very little room for honest drama because everything is so melodramatic. When characters die, you don’t feel sorry for them. You feel like the filmmakers have done them a favor.

“Mission to Mars” does deliver some fantastic visuals, but it also drags along its share of clunkers as well. The depiction of alien life is so laughable it destroys all the good will that came before it. Ennio Morricone’s musical score is heavy-handed to the point of being annoying.

The real loser here is “Red Planet,” a new film starring Val Kilmer that also deals with a rescue mission to Mars. This turd might keep others from enjoying the rest of the punch.



Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins, Connie Nielsen, Jerry O’Connell, Don Cheadle, Armin Mueller-Stahl in a film directed by Brian De Palma. Rated PG. 116 Minutes.


Comments are closed.