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Mars Attacks!

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Mars Attacks!

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close
Director: Tim Burton
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 103 Minutes
Release Date: December 1996
Genres: Action, Comedy, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

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1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie review
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Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

"It is an awesome sight. The Martian spacecraft hovering in the Nevada desert like a giant hubcap," reports breathless and brainless TV talk show host Nathalie Lake (Sarah Jessica Parker).

Yes, Tim Burton (ED WOOD, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and BATMAN) is back, and this time he turns his considerable creative talent to a spoof called MARS ATTACKS!. He tries to make a parody of a science fiction movie, but instead comes up with a film that plays more as a parody of a parody. The picture is laced with sag gags from end to end, but most manage to fall as flat as the spoken humor from screenwriter Jonathan Gems. Like a well-constructed bad painting, there is much to admire in the film, but the net effect leaves you dispassionate.

The movie, which has some similarities to the vastly superior INDEPENDENCE DAY, has the president as the central character. Jack Nicholson plays President Dale as well as hard drinking, Las Vegas developer Art Land. Actually, Jack Nicholson plays Jack Nicholson doing his usual shtick.

Like the president in INDEPENDENCE DAY, President Dale has his big speech to the nation when the aliens, in his case Martians, are spotted. In a singularly trite address, he proclaims to his people, "It is profoundly moving to know there is intelligent life out there."

Accomplished costume designer Colleen Atwood (LITTLE WOMEN, THAT THING YOU DO!, and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS) designed the costumes for MARS ATTACKS!. She uses badly contrasting pastel colors to make the already ditzy cast seem even more so. Parker plays a role reminiscent of her kid's TV show part in THE SUBSTANCE OF FIRE. Here, her clothes are even more outlandish. The sets by Wynn Thomas are a panoply of bad taste. Parker's character, for example, sets in egg shaped black and white checkered chairs while doing her interviews. The chair's contrast with her clothes will probably short circuit a few picture tubes when the movies goes to video.

Lukas Haas as Richie Norris is the only sincere character in the movie. He also gets the best line. When the Martians land, everyone assumes that they are friendly. After the Martian Ambassador makes a circular motion, Richie says, "Wow, he made the international sign of the donut."

Most characters in the film do little set pieces having only tangential relation to the rest of the story. Annette Bening plays a rich new ager named Barbara Land. As the Martians disembark for the first time, she sets lotus position on top of her Mercedes convertible while holding a Crystal pyramid.

Martin Short is presidential press secretary Jerry Ross. After the Martians slaughter hundreds of army soldiers and innocent civilians, he wants the president to hold a town meeting to get America's opinion before making a decision on how to respond.

As shown in the trailers, the Martians vaporize the entire congress. Not unpleased, the President says, "I want the people to know that they still have two out of three branches of government and that ain't bad."

This is one of those Hollywood casts of thousands movies. Everyone who is anyone gets a part. Even Tom Jones, playing himself of course, comes to the rescue. For the record, the movie also has Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Natalie Portman, Jim Brown, Lisa Marie, Sylvia Sidney, Christina Applegate, Joe Don Baker, Pam Grier, and Paul Winfield. See what I mean.

I am not against using large numbers of stars in a picture. Earlier that day I saw the new and absolutely marvelous four hour Hamlet. In it Kenneth Branagh uses a large cast of acting's luminaries to great effect.

MARS ATTACK! is a violent film. Most of it is semi-cartoonish with hundreds of people vaporized with their skin being eaten away until only a red or green skeleton is left. Why some end up red and others blue is the story's chief conundrum. In a scene lifted straight out of an R rated horror movie, one character's finger is realistically eaten and then the bloody stump is thrown in a fish bowl. The camera moves in for a close-up to make sure we see it.

Taken as a film for adults, the violence is not a problem, but considering this film is rated PG-13, there will be many frightened grade-schoolers. It certainly frightened my son badly, and I have not seen him scared at a movie in over a year. As a son of movie critic, he sees many films. He has been to the theater 26 times this year, but none of them affected him as this one did.

I did enjoy portions of MARS ATTACKS!, but its whole is less than the some of the few good parts. At least it has a totally unpredictable ending. Even an experience alien fighter will not be able to figure out the Achilles' heel of these Martians.

MARS ATTACKS! runs 1:42. It is rated PG-13. There is no nudity, but there is brief sex, some profanity, and lots of violence. My son Jeffrey, age 7 1/2, gives it a "thumbs 55 percent down and 45 percent up." My ever affable son, tends to like every movie, but not this one. He said the film is "for kids 7 1/2 and up because I really was scared, and I get scared easier than most kids my age." I think the film is for kids 9 or 10 and up. I can not recommend it, but I do give it **.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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