Red Planet (2000) — It’s not a plot, it’s a plotloaf

“This is it, the one day our math teachers told us algebra would save our lives.”

DnaError’s rating: My eyes are still bleeding…

DnaError’s review: In Red Planet, Carrie-Anne Moss has a shower scene. That’s all you need to know, really. The characters are insipid, the plot is trite, but Ms. Moss has a scene that pushes the boundary of PG-13 to a breaking point.

I guess you want me to review this movie, okay then. Outside of the shower scene, this is one painful movie. Directed by first-timer Antony Hoffman and written by schlock-author Chuck Pfarrer (his previous works include Virus and Barb Wire, this should be a clue people!), Red Planet follows the journey of six people as they travel to Mars to find out why recent terraforming experiments have gone awry. From its cliché, overly-long opening monologue to its hack-eyed ending, Red Planet is the most boring exercise in movie-making I’ve seen in a long time.

First on the chopping block are the characters. I guess the director thought it was efficient to not give us any backstory or history on these people cause then you can just film them saying things. Not that a backstory would have helped, since each one of these characters are the most stereotypical, one-sided, dull as dirt cardboard plot devices this side of Joe Esterhaus. It’s not even worth mentioning their names let alone the actors to play them, but here they are. Commander Kate Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss), Dr. Bud Chantillas (Terrance Stamp), Ted Santen (Benjamin Bratt), Robby Gallagher (Val Kilmer), Dr. Quinn Burchenal (Tom Sizemore), and Chip Pettengill (Simon Baker). If these people are any examples of humanity in the future, I say let them starve.

Now that that’s over with, on to the “plot,” a term used extremely loosely in this movie’s case. It is not a plot, it’s a plotloaf, made from other parts and scraps then molded into a story. Aside from being mind-numbingly dull and slow and downright insulting to the audience’s intellect (like AMEE, the military robot who, for some reason, has programming to search and destroy on Mars), the dialogue is so blunt and obvious that it makes you wonder if “Chuck Pfarrer” is really a code word of a thousand monkeys on a thousand word processors. I can’t get across just how painful it is to listen to these characters prattle on puerily about “God” in some vain attempt to make this horrible movie mean something. MST3K movies had more substance.

While the movie contains some, small points of interest such as a handful of interesting toys (paper-thin computers, holographic screens, and the CGI AMEE looks like a mix between a lion, a spider, and a robot). As for Mars, well, lets just say Mars looks a lot like Montana with a red filter. It’s nothing compared to the sheer mountains of crap this movie expects you to swallow. It’s not even laughably bad as Mission to Mars, it’s just bad. There is nothing worth here wasting two hours of your life on, except for the shower scene.

PoolMan’s rating: That’s one small step for Val, aaaand one small step for everyone else.

PoolMan’s review: We have a little saying around here at the Mutant offices: When you need a wishy-washy, overly nice but can’t explain why, just say that you liked it and get on with your day kind of review, call the PoolMan! With a couple of exceptions, I seem to be the king of being too nice to movies. I just don’t feel right some days criticizing something that took more money and talent to make then I’ll ever have in my whole life. And then I remember… I’m a Mutant.

So as usual, I went into a movie, in this case Red Planet, with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. I mean, after all, it’s got space travel, it’s got Vancouver-born scifi poster grrl Carrie Anne Moss (in the shower, no less!), and it’s got a neat premise — what will mankind have to do to colonize another planet? Of course this’ll be a good flick!

And again, as usual, I wanted to like it. I soooooo did. I read Dna’s review when it came out and thought, “Nah, it can’t be that bad… he’s just jealous cause they have a bigger spaceship than he does!”. Truth be told, my optimism is probably what saved me in the end. I got all the way through, was entertained, and hadn’t burned TOO many IQ points in the experience.

But it is a trying experience. Red Planet (as most scifi flicks do) asks you to suspend a LOT of disbelief. Sure, a ship that big only has a crew of six people. Of course a huge electromagnetic pulse will knock out the ship JUST as it enters orbit over Mars. And naturally, civilians always make perfect crew onboard military craft. After a while, these little leaps in logic become like all those twenty dollar withdrawals you make every couple of days… they start to add up. Before you know it, logic is sitting in the back of the room drinking a Caesar heckling the show.

I got the feeling that the creators of this movie took a lot of inspiration from the original Alien movie. Not that this is entirely a bad thing; surely that’s a movie that could stand some homage. Also, it kept forcing a pretty cool concept to the forefront of my mind: Carrie Anne Moss would make a GREAT new Ripley, or Ripley-like character, in a new Alien flick. Would that not be cool?

But too much of the rest of Red Planet comes off like a directly recycled flick… are we really so far into the scifi age that we can’t avoid such clichés? A tweak and a nudge could have made this flick really cool. As it is, it’s passable, but not spectacular. To sum it up: I don’t know art. But I know what I hate. And I don’t hate this.

Justin’s rating: I’m surprised Mars didn’t have a 7-11

Justin’s review: This is one of those “We’re leaving? We just got here!” films, AKA a pointless journey project. While I can think of a dozen cool story ideas revolving around a trip to Mars, both Red Planet and Mission To Mars use the SAME pathetic idea. That idea is this: have a massive ship years ahead of our current technology level go to Mars and promptly break down, stranding most of the crew on the surface who then try to find a way home.

Honestly, the way these astronauts yammer on about how wonderful it’s going to be to get to Mars, you’d expect them to die happy on the surface. But no, they got to whine about being stranded and “completing the mission” and returning to Earth because there’s more women there. Seriously, there are more “I hate Mars and wanna go home” speeches than “Boy, isn’t this cool, we’re on another planet” monologues. Can’t wait for Houston to start broadcasting those for history.

In fact, to point out how dumb this movie is, the spacecraft that goes to Mars has seven men and one gorgeous woman… so guess who ends up staying on the spaceship? Carrie Anne-Moss just can’t wait to get rid of the men. She jettisons them as soon as there’s a problem, despite knowing that the crew will not have a way to get back up into orbit. Alone for most of the movie, she exists to talk with the snippy computer. About the only highlight of the film is when the men take a morning leak, fascinated with the historic first whizz on Mars.

The acting here is abysmal. None of the characters or their relationships are fleshed out other than “he’s my buddy” and “he’s a rotten jerk” and “we almost kissed, so I guess we’re in love.” At times, the characters had to say lines so lame and ridiculous that you can tell they can’t get up the energy to put any emotion in their tone.

While other movies of the stranded-in-space genre go out of their way to provide logical explanations to the horrible situations they are landed in, Red Planet goes with the a first grade teacher mentality: That happened just because they told you so. The ship gets half-destroyed because, um, well there’s something to do with a solar flare. I think. Their resident programmed-to-go-mad robot switches from helpful tool to homicidal machine because, um, it hits its head when it lands. Or something. There are creatures on Mars that have been eating the bacteria we’ve been sending to the surface, but they skirt heavily around how they got there in the first place, or what they ate before we started sending them happy meals. Sure, okay, whatever.

This is just a sad mix of Apollo 13, Aliens, and Mission To Mars. I think it’d be lovely to have friends to mock it with, but there’s no real entertainment otherwise. And what a shame, because the technology they showcase here looks good. Not great, but still pretty flashy.

In the end, constantly griping Gallagher (Val Kilmer) just gives up because he’s tired of walking. Or something. Bowman (Anne-Moss) gives him a pep talk that boils down to, “if you’re not going to do it for NASA or to enrich humanity from the discoveries, then at least get back here because we’ll have six months to make out on the way home.” I SWEAR this is what she says.

That’s movie quality for you.

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