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My Favorite Martian

out of 4

*Also starring: Elizabeth Hurley, Daryl Hannah, Ray Walston, Wallace Shawn

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

"My Favorite Martian" is based on the TV series of the same name and it looks it. Loaded with banal one-liners that brought laughs to neither the critics nor the small fry in the audience, the picture depends for its appeal on visual effects and a story about a friendship between two people from different worlds. The effects, however grand, are ugly, unless you go for Monty-Python style graphics about a man who at one point says "I'm coming apart" and then literally does. And it would be a stretch to interpret the friendship between an emerald-green Martian and an Irish-American as a metaphor for the idea that we can learn to live together happily with people who look different from us and act in ways we consider strange. At one point, director Donald Petrie reaches for the E.T. factor, hoping perhaps that the audience would sympathize with a dying Martian whom the doctors have given up trying to save, but don't think of selling your Kleenex stock yet: tissue usage is not about to increase.

When Tim O'Hara (Jeff Daniels), a reporter looking to impress his boss with a big story, accidentally falls into what could be the scoop of the century, he is dismayed to discover that a just-landed Martian (Christopher Lloyd) is determined to keep his identity secret. Converting himself from the standard Martian look to a human countenance, the visitor sets about exploring the culture of the planet Earth, which he and his people have always considered a center of barbarism. Believing himself to be bereft of human-style feeling, he is surprised by his reaction to several women, including Tim's TV-reporter girl friend Brace Channing (Elizabeth Hurley), TV crew member Lizzie (Daryl Hannah) and Tim's landlady Mrs. Brown (Christine Ebersole).

As the budding rapport of the two men evolves into pure camaraderie, the two ride through events which are milked for comic potential. In one situation Martin takes on Tim's identity and explores the nature of kissing with one of the lovely women, and in a final change of identity he becomes the gorgeous Brace Channing, delivering a comic newscast designed to keep his secret identity secure. Since the folks who make movies for the little ones are convinced that a vulgar situation or two can't hurt, director Petrie exploits a ride that Martin and Tim take through a sewer, pursued by a Roto-Rooter in the hands of villainous scientists led by Dr. Coleye (character actor Wallace Shawn). Believing they are home free, they discover they are submerged just under the toilet seat of a man who asks for his Field and Stream magazine and complains that he shouldn't have had that fourth burrito.

Special effects are imposing but nothing that we haven't seen before in the Mars-attacks genre. The showstealer is a suit named Zoot (played by "himself"), an empty uniform that feels abandoned when its owner discards it for something more in line with the Santa Barbara style. The only gag subtle enough to appeal to adults, one that you'll miss if you blink, displays Lizzie leaning back at the studio reading a copy of "Men are from Mars." On the whole, "My Favorite Martian" is an Unimpressive Flying Object.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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