Angry Red Planet Hollywood
Poor Gary Sinese. First he was left behind when the other astronauts climbed aboard Apollo 13 bound for the moon. Then he lost the title role in Being John Malkovich to (ironically) John Malkovich. Now he gets left behind again, washing out of the first manned Mars mission before the opening credits.
But did Gary give up? No! Sooner or later it was bound to happen – somebody screwed up and Gary got his chance to get into a real Big Boy’s spacesuit and go to the rescue, with only Tim Robbins to hold his hand.
The first mission gets into trouble when they fool with a huge Martian artifact that wakes up a tornado dragon to eat them all up. Only Don Cheadle has the star power to survive. Sinese and Robbins, along with Connie Nielson (Soldier, Rushmore) and Jerry O’Connell (who thinks this is just a really groovy Sliders episode), jump aboard a spare rocket to rescue and investigate.
Mission to Mars may be opening in the year 2000, and set roughly around 2015 when NASA says the real thing will take place, but it’s heart is stuck back in 1952. It’s really nothing more or less than an updated version of 1950s space movies like Rocketship X-M, Angry Red Planet, and Wizard of Mars. There’s a meteor shower, some nifty zero-g scenes, a spacewalk, and other standard sequences.
When they finally get to Mars, they find Cheadle still alive and looking like Robinson Crusoe. Quickly solving the riddle to the artifact (that Cheadle had been working on for months), Sinese and friends pass the time until their launch by taking a peek inside. After a nifty CGI animated alien history documentary, we learn the Ultimate Secret – which turns out to be as trite and tired a “surprise” as you could imagine, old before The Twilight Zone.
There are plenty of groaners. Sinese looks at a computer generated graphic of joined balls and sticks and says, “That DNA looks human!” Robbins has to keep a straight face while spouting a string of cliches – ready for lift-off, he intones: “Let’s light the candle on this sucker!” To be fair, this is just accurate dialogue. Real astronauts are trained to respond in flat tech-cowboy jabber. It keeps them from blurting out, “Keep watching the skies! They’re here already!! YOU’RE NEXT!!!”
This isn’t really such a horrible little sci-fi b-movie – except that it’s a huge, expensive Hollywood epic with big name stars that they expect you to pay eight bucks to see. Director Brian De Palma checks in with a long, continuous steadicam shot every now and then just to let the folks know he’s there. But for the most part, he just lets the special effects folks do their stuff and enjoys the ride. I recommend you take the same attitude.