SF stories often have a hard time starting up. The problem arises because the audience must be told about everything that has happened in cosmic history between now and the imaginary moment at which the plot starts.
Hence those breathless, clumsy printed screeds or voice-overs (the most memorably zany appears in Lynch's Dune ) enumerating half a dozen occurrences of war, ecological disaster and urgent interplanetary expeditions.
Red Planet, after some such blast of backstory, deposits us on a ship destined for Mars. Earth is dying, of course, and the means to make Mars habitable for we flawed humans is immediately required.
Even though the backdrop for this lame tale is the entire universe, it would be hard to find an American movie more inward-looking than Red Planet. Writers Chuck Pfarrer (Hard Target, 1993) and Jonathan Lemkin are unconcerned with the possibility of alien beings and different cultures. All that matters here is that a trio of space cowboys (played by Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore and Benjamin Bratt) can park themselves on the empty surface of Mars and take a big, long piss over it.
When not urinating, these heroes cannot stop telling us what an ugly, awful, godforsaken place Mars is – being typically whinging and parochial American travellers. Fortunately for the future of earth, Mars has magically generated an oxygen supply. But, before colonisation can proceed, these pioneers must deal with a renegade android, devouring bugs, fierce ice storms – and, worst of all, each other.
There is nothing interesting about the characters or their interrelationships. Terence Stamp keeps mumbling profundities about faith, God and spirituality, but Red Planet shies away from any apparition of New Age consciousness such as concluded De Palma's Mission to Mars (2000).
Director Anthony Hoffman's attempt to generate a little romantic heat between heroic Gallagher (Kilmer) and his kick-ass commander, Kate (Carrie-Anne Moss), is particularly weak.
Red Planet inertly splices together situations from a dozen SF plots, and comes up empty.
© Adrian Martin December 2000