A good cast doesn't entirely save
this standard-issue rescue adventure
Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla
(Click on the images to see larger version and credits.)
It's 2025 and do you know where your atmosphere is? Yup ... hopelessly poisoned, the soil sterilized by toxins, and our planet has less than a century of sustainable life left in it.
All eyes turn to the Mars terraforming project; everything seems to be going well, but something odd's been happening up there; the algae that had been sent to the planet to create a breathable atmosphere seems to be failing, and the oxygen levels on Mars are dropping fast. It looks like we'll have to take care of this in person.
Mission commander Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss) (Nyuck nyuck nyuck on the name, guys, open the pod bay door Hal?) leads a crew to examine the Mars problem. A habitation has already been sent to Mars and should be up and running. The mission is going smoothly, although one of the scientests (Terence Stamp, who is wasted in a too-small role) is showing signs of wigging out, philosophically speaking. The "space janitor" or systems engineer, (Val Kilmer) lacks respect from the crew, but has the eye of his commander.
Once in Mars orbit, things go wrong as they normally do in space movies. A severe solar flare cripples the mother ship and forces an early launch of the lander, which promptly crashes (don't you hate when that happens?) far away from the habitation. Commander Bowman, who had to stay behind in order to get the lander away, is managing to repair the mother ship for the return to earth, but the mission looks junked, especially when the survivors from the lander reach the habitation to find it completely destroyed, and only 15 minutes of oxygen left in their tanks. They wait around to die, only to discover something strange -- there IS a breathable atmosphere on Mars after all. There is also a pissed-off robot who has gone military on their butts. What's an astronaut to do?
Well, make chest-beating speeches about duty and sacrifice, for one thing. Kilmer and Stamp are terrific; Moss has the makings of a big star, between this and her duties in "The Matrix." She could be the big action heroine that Linda Hamilton chose not to be. Tom Sizemore and Benjamin Bratt are solid in support, and the effects are pretty nifty. The script, however, is pretty lame. It's one deux ex machina after another, one amazing miraculous coincidence piled atop another until you're screaming for mercy, but sadly, in Hollywood, nobody can hear you scream.
"Red Planet" is fair enough eye candy, but could have used a plot that didn't have quite so many holes in it (the destruction of the habitation is never fully explained; when you figure out what caused it, you wonder how a station that was designed to withstand an F5 tornado could have succumbed to what destroyed it). Kilmer is as laid-back as action heroes go; Sizemore makes a pretty good second banana, but it's Moss who captured my attention here, as she will yours (despite the somewhat obligatory, unnecessary nude scene). She deserves better material and hopefully the Wachowski brothers will provide it in the next two Matrix installments, due out in 2001.
VIDEO OR THEATER: This is a big space opera meant to be seen on a big screen.
See cast, credit and other details about "Red Planet" at Internet Movie Data Base.