Red Planet

If indeed there is life on Mars, the last two films about colonizing the planet haven’t been able to find it. Like “Mission To Mars,” “Red Planet” is a lifeless spectacle. Pretty pictures valiantly trying to hide characters and direction that are as thin as air on the moon.

red planetFilms like “Mission to Mars” and “Red Planet” must cost a lot, which always leaves to me wonder how much was budgeted for a screenplay. Why invest enough money to run a small town for several years on a film filled with flat characters and tired situations? Nifty special effects are nice, but for a science-fiction film to endure, it needs heart and soul.

There’s little of either in “Red Planet,” a film that’s both sterile and uninteresting. I love science- fiction films, so every time I encounter one, it’s with welcome, open arms. It’s only after they become a nuisance that I want to distance myself from their company. “Red Planet” is like the guest who wouldn’t leave. It’s only 94 minutes long, but it feels like light years.

The film looks great, benefitting from Peter Suschitzky’s breathtaking cinematography, taking full advantage of Jeffrey Okun’s dazzling visual effects. Add into the mix Graeme Revell’s haunting, almost heroic score and Robert K. Lambert and Dallas S. Puett’s razor sharp editing, and you have the groundwork for grand entertainment.

Unfortunately, no one told the writers or the director, who do little with the riches they have been given. The screenplay by Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin is marginally serviceable, delivering obvious characters and emotions, and tragically dull action sequences. Not only do you not care about the characters, you could care less what happens to them. This is life and death stuff, yet it feels so cheap and artificial.

Val Kilmer heads up a game cast who look great in their leather bar space outfits, including Carrie-Anne Moss of “The Matrix” who looks like she’s just passing through on her way to the sequel of the Keanu Reeves film. She’s fine, but like her cohorts, she has little to do that matters.

Moss plays Kate Bowman, the mission commander of a 2025 Mars flight that goes totally out of control. As Earth nears its ecological breakdown, Mars remains the only logical alternative. When a prior project on the surface of Mars malfunctions, a human crew is sent in to fix the problem.

They include systems engineer Gallagher (Kilmer, looking better than he has in years), scientific analyst Burchenal (Tom Sizemore), Air Force captain Santen (Benjamin Bratt), scientist Pettengil (Simon Baker) and Chief Science Officer Chantilas (Terence Stamp). Also along for the is a mechanical dog-like robot designed to assist the crew.

Once the crew reaches Mars, things immediately go wrong. Landing on the planet’s surface becomes a brutal roller coaster ride, leaving the landing crew stranded. While Bowman tries to help the crew from her orbit, the landing crew is forced to face off against the elements, some nasty inhabitants, and their robot, which has become a killing machine.

Director Hoffman approaches it all with an earnestness that becomes laughable. Hoffman and the writers act like we’ve never seen any of this before. The actors, forced to compete with the film’s numerous visual and special effects, play everything larger-than-life. They didn’t have the benefit of working with a director who knows the difference between intense and heavy-handed.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know how all of this will turn out. It obviously didn’t take a rocket scientist to write it. It does take someone with more skill than Hoffman to make it matter. When characters are customarily dispatched, instead of mourning their demise, you find yourself looking at your watch.

The action scenes lack real bite, as does the electronic villain that stalks the crew as they struggle to survive. Here’s a film that takes place on the surface of Mars, and instead of feeling a sense of awe and wonder, you feel like you’ve been there before. You have. “Red Planet” is another jigsaw puzzle movie, where all of the pieces come from other films.

Kilmer is okay as the systems engineer forced to make some very difficult decisions, and Moss does inject some degree of sophistication into her mission commander. The rest of the cast are stuck in one-note roles, and deliver them as such.

I really wanted to like “Red Planet,” especially after the silly “Mission to Mars.” All I was looking for was a little diversion. Instead, I got hash. No, make that rehash.

DREAD PLANETSecond Mission to Mars arrives D.O.A.


Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore, Benjamin Bratt, Terence Stamp, Simon Baker in a film directed by Anthony Hoffman. Rated PG-13. 94 Minutes.


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