Mission to Mars
directed by Brian de Palma
(Touchstone, 2000)

You can't be serious.

Normally, I try to find something in a movie to like. Even when it's not my genre, has a weak plot or bad acting, or uses special effects as a way to compensate for a wholly implausible storyline. In the case of Mission to Mars, though, it's such a twisted combination of all of them that I can't like it. No matter how hard I try.

Remember the Mars probe machine they sent up a few years back? If you saw the news reports, the little guy (that, I believe, cost around $3 million or something equally as staggering) worked for about a week and pooped out after smashing into a rock or something. I don't remember details, really, but I do remember that it was a colossal waste of money that could have been used on more important things, like paying senators' overdrafted checks.

At any rate, one of the photos that came back from the little zippy machine was a rock formation that the conspiracy theorists/alien believers/X-Files fanatics latched onto. If you squint your eyes in south-facing sun and tilt your head to the right, it looks like a face. Kind of like certain clouds look like bunny rabbits. Nonetheless, the wackos decided that this could just be a sign of intelligent life on Mars.

Fast forward to the year 2000. One of those wackos with enough fortitude to write a screenplay decides that this could make a pretty kick-ass movie, if Gary Sinese is in it. (Only Captain Dan could pull that off, right?) He writes Mission to Mars, and gets Brian de Palma to direct it. Tim Robbins signs on and probably regrets it, though I'm just speculating about that part.

Wackos everywhere rejoice.

Despite the presence of Robbins, who generally has work I respect, the movie starts at a pace that would make a snail wish for fingers to work the remote control. A gathering of astronauts for a barbecue, and droll conversation like at a dinner party for your parents' 50th wedding anniversary. There's the husband-and-wife team (which you know from the outset will be broken up by an untimely death), the clown (who tells all the pretty young girls that he's an astronaut as a pick-up line -- while juggling), and, true to form, the embittered one. (Isn't there always an embittered one, set to be enlightened?)

The pace doesn't pick up until another gruelling scene where they discuss the reasons that Sinese's character isn't going on the mission to colonize Mars. His wife just died, he's in no mental state to go. Ah, the tragedy.

And again, true to form, there's a horrible accident, one is left and they must figure out what happened to him while they charge off like the cavalry to go get him. It's so predictable that it's not really even worth talking about.

During one scene, which is probably the scene to be voted "Most Needed to End Up on the Cutting Room Floor," the rescue team is in a spaceship with NOTHING GOING ON. I mean nothing. There's far off Van Halen music, someone looking at a computer, another person wandering aimlessly. For all intents and purposes, it looks like space is infinite. And infinitely boring. So's this scene.

I suppose, though, that it's supposed to be one of those "character-building" scenes. For me, it was a "time to go get drinks and hit the restroom" scene.

In another characteristic scene, Robbins' character decides to argue with the commander in charge that Sinese should be allowed to go with him on the rescue mission. He's the best man for the job. But, the commander argues, he hasn't taken all the psych evaluations. He could be dangerous.

This could have been a pivotal scene. It could have been one that would have stood out among the dreck of the rest of the movie. Instead, Robbins plays it like he's Al Gore at a nudie bar -- wooden and looking like his mind is somewhere else. Probably on how much longer this damn shoot will take so he can get his check and go home.

And Worst of All?

The final scenes take the cake for cheese. Man's entire existence is questioned and explained. You see, we're all Martians. Not just Martians, mind you, but MARS Martians, who were driven from their home planet by a horrible asteroid impact millions of years ago. Only one ship stayed behind to welcome their "children" and take them into the Milky Way, which must be kind of like a Florida resort for aging aliens. (Can I still call them aliens if we are them and they are us? Ah, the question of the millenium.)

The good part is, my fiance owns a video store and didn't have to pay for this thing. Better, it's renting like hotcakes and people are returning it quickly -- there's very little theft because nobody, and I mean nobody I have talked to that's rented it actually wants to KEEP it. So even though it's good for business, it's a definite waste of two hours of my life. Two hours that I'll never get back, but during which I did learn why we evolved from primordial slime. Aliens!

Save your money. Go spend it on Ben & Jerry's and kick your feet up to watch network TV. Or if you must rent something like this, get Tom Hanks' Apollo 13 and some Star Trek flicks, and call it a day.

This is definitely a hot one to miss.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]
Rambles: 30 June 2001

Buy it from Amazon.com.