“Wow, that was bad.” Driving home from the preview, we’d chat briefly, pause, and one of us would say it again. “That was a bad movie,” in a daze from viewing the cinematic wreckage that is GHOSTS OF MARS. There were a lot of rumors that this was a film in distress. Its release was delayed, and that’s usually not a good sign, so I was prepared for something not top notch. I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for the brilliant director of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, but nothing prepared me for this.
To start with, the entire movie is a bad flashback, and there are bad flashback scenes within the over-arching bad flashback. The plot, and there is a bit of plot, centers around the heroic Lt. Melanie Ballard (Henstridge) and how she went to pick up a prisoner, James “Desolation” Williams (Ice Cube), and everybody except her died or disappeared, mostly due to rabid escapees from a Marilyn Manson-led heavily-pierced death-cult. Every character’s life is on the line starting about 10 minutes in, and they fight the noble and good fight, throwing away most of their lives in a hopeless cause, praying for the train that’s coming, which might have been suspenseful except that we know it comes eventually because we saw it during the opening credits.
I must say that the sets and costumes are great. Lovely Martian wasteland, solid industrial space colony interiors (Why does everyone in the future have dark, grimy walls? Is it a reaction against the current domination of beige?), and truly nasty-looking costumes and make-up for our possessed friends. What went wrong when so much money was spent to make this movie look good?
Well, I’ve already trashed the plot, so let’s move on to the atrocious script and the acting that goes with it. Everyone was sleepwalking through this one, and once you hear their dialogue you know why. Despite obvious threats to life and limb, Captain Pam Grier and her team of marines (they’re called police, but they act just like marines do in every other space shoot-em-up) couldn’t care less. Apathy shines through each performance, killing every scene, and the dialogue, especially between our two heroes, had me choking down screams of pain. I can only imagine the cast, unable to leave the set or change a word, knowing they’d have to work the whole shoot to avoid getting sued for breach of contract. If only they’d brought some of their agony to their roles.
The violence helps a little. The best scene of the entire film is when one character accidentally chops off his thumb. After that, I got a little lift every time a character died dramatically, but that was just because I hated them for keeping the film from ending by being alive.
And then there’s the end. I’m going to spoil it, because if by telling you the ending I can prevent you from torturing yourself or your loved ones with this movie, God is on my side.
You think it’s over. Lt. Ballard is safely home, having covered for criminal “Desolation” Williams’s escape. Suddenly we hear sirens! The public address system calls the police to the weapons lockers! Then, Williams bursts in on Ballard, dressed in sharp new black leathers, and tosses her a shiny silver machine gun. “You’d have made a good cop.” “You’d have made a good criminal.” Together, “Naaah.” “Let’s go kick some ass.” “It’s what we’re good at.” The End.
Save yourselves from the GHOSTS OF MARS!!! Or if you must see it, find a theater friendly to drunks and perform an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. “God, that was bad.”