Mission to Mars

By Mark Ramsey | 2000/03/11

They used to think the moon was made of Swiss, but believe me, the solar system’s cheesiest planet nowadays is definitely Mars.

Mission to Mars is the first gasp of Spring and the last sigh of Winter. It’s 2020: Gary Sinise drives a futuristic car and wears the same aviator shades Tom Cruise popularized back in 1985. Gary’s a “stick jockey,” meaning he pilots spacecraft and occasionally answers to the name “she.”

missiontomars_plantflag.jpgMysteriously, a sudden Martian dust-storm reveals a face on the planet strongly resembling the visage of Lucy Liu from Ally McBeal! “What does it mean?” asks Don Cheadle. “It means Charlie’s Angels is coming to a theater near you,” replies Gary Sinise. “Roger that,” says Cheadle.

See, Don gets stranded on Mars, so Tim Robbins and company must get new motherboards, software, and drives to Mars as quickly as possible. Is this a rescue mission or a tech support housecall? Does Don have life insurance or a service contract?

This is one happy family of astronauts, brother! I haven’t seen such warm and fuzzy beings venture into space since the muppets. You know what Jim Henson always used to say, the next best thing to a hand up your back is a check in the bank.

Time to launch! Engage EVA station and HPU. Engage creepy organ music. Copy! Engage techno-jargon! We’re go/no go for M.O.I. Engage overzealous CGI from ILM to fill in where lame script is DOA. Roger, that, baby!

When our heroes finally arrive on the red planet, they are greeted by the Martian natives: Actors William Hurt and Margot Kidder, who live in a 4,000 square foot colonial with huge walk-in closets to hang their straight-jackets. It’s nestled in what the subtitle tells us is “Cydonia, Mars” even though it looks more like “Sedona, Arizona” through an orange filter.


It’s refreshing to learn that – even in 2020 – you can still ballet to Van Halen. Indeed, Tim’s wife is on the trip with him, and her mission specialty seems to be ballroom dancing. “Honey,” says Tim, “the precise choreography of this mission requires a classically trained dancer, plus somebody’s got to fetch the beer. Now, engage waltz maneuver!” “Copy that!”

Jerry O’Connell builds a DNA string out of M&Ms in Zero G. Who knew that M&Ms come in plain, peanut, and amino acid base-pair? Genetically speaking, the difference between a candy dish and a monkey is only 3 percent!

It’s Oktoberfest at NASA, and Armin Mueller-Stahl is the mission director: “Za ztresses haf nevah been tezted in Zpace,” says Armin. “Hey Sinise,” says Robbins, “get the Enigma decoding device. I can’t understand a word Armin’s saying.” “Roger that, Mr. Sarandon” says Gary.

Now I’m just crazy about Tim Robbins, but something tells me this flick was the price Tim paid Touchstone for his chance to make Cradle Will Rock last year.

Back on Mars, astronauts Gary, Don and the gang cruise out and try to communicate with the giant face in the sand by bombarding it with electronic signals. Unfortunately, the face’s only response is a marked decrease in the appearance of tiny lines and a faint message later decoded to read: “What do I look like, Frances Farmer?”

Mission to Mars allegedly cost 90 million dollars. That includes about 15 million for production and 75 million for Mike Eisner’s year-end bonus. God only knows where they put all the money, because I can’t seem to find it on the screen. Did they tape bills underneath theater seats? Are they hosting a raffle?

What’s with these aliens? They look like “Antz” clothed in Anna Sui. You can hold my DNA in your hand if you like, Mr. Alien, just don’t use it to probe my ass.

Mission to Mars is from director Brian De Palma, and it has its share of foolhardy heroics of the “you’d do the same for me” variety. Especially in the exciting climax, when Sissy Spacek reaches from beneath the Martian sand to snatch away any forthcoming De Palma projects and drag Brian down into the Hellish depths whence comest this script. In my theater, some toddler kept talking to the screen. And his dialogue was better!

The red planet is orange and opening weekend will no doubt be green galore, but beware: Word of mouth will turn red to dread faster than you can say “Roger that,” baby.


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