Is there life on Mars? Even after the inert actors in Antony Hoffman's RED
PLANET make their journey there, the count of life forms still appears to be
about zip. With an arid landscape that is the spitting image of Utah, the
tedious movie is about as much fun as a long stroll through a hot Utah
desert without benefit of water.
The near-comatose cast is led by Carrie-Anne Moss (THE MATRIX) as Commander
Kate Bowman. In one of the blandest narrations on record, she explains the
setup to us. It seems that Earth's resources have been depleted by bad
ecological choices, so the planet's inhabitants have decided to colonize
Mars. In order to prepare our promised land, we have blanketed Mars with
algae. This has been working for twenty years, but suddenly the algae have
started to disappear. Commander Bowman is leading the first manned mission
to Mars in order to find out what happened to the algae. Yes, RED PLANET is
about lost algae. If you think that AWOL algae doesn't sound like a hot
recipe for a picture, you'd be right.
Along on the expedition with the commander are Robby Gallagher (Val Kilmer),
Dr. Quinn Burchenal (Tom Sizemore), Ted Santen (Benjamin Bratt), Chip
Pettengill (Simon Baker) and Dr. Bud Chantillas (Terence Stamp). In a
dead-end subplot, Dr. Chantillas is a scientist turned philosopher who
spends his time looking for God. Exactly why he was chosen to join them is
a mystery not worth solving.
The good news about the cast is that Val Kilmer avoids his usual proclivity
for overacting with a vengeance. The bad news is that he phones in his part
without one scintilla of emotion. Actually, the whole cast seems affected
by the lighter Martian gravity which appears to make time slow down and
brains go into idle loops.
In order to jazz up this PG-13-rated science fiction tale, writers Jonathan
Lemkin and Channing Gibson have the commander parade naked and wear tight
see-through tops. Moss demonstrates as much sexuality in her nude scenes as
she does fear when disaster strikes, which is to say, none at all. After
standing nude in front of Gallagher and telling him to think of her as his
sister, she orders him to get busy. "Why don't you go fix something?" she
requests. "Yes, sir, uh, ma'am!" he shoots back.
About the only satisfactory moment in RED PLANET comes when the commander's
computer decides to get sarcastic with her. "That's not good," the
commander remarks when something unexpected happens. "No, it isn't," the
computer replies wittily.
Usually, one wants to see science fiction movies on the big screen in order
to appreciate the impressive images. In RED PLANET, Peter Suschitzky's dark
and dull cinematography gives you little reason not to wait for video. And
if you do wait, you would be better off renting MISSION TO MARS, which is a
superior movie. "You want me to shut up and let you die quietly?" Burchenal
asks Gallagher at one point. You'll be hoping, against hope, that he says
"yes," so that this miserable mission can draw to a quick close.
RED PLANET runs 1:47. It is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence, brief nudity
and language and would be acceptable for kids around 12 and up.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes