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Red Planet (PG-13)
Warner Bros.
Official Site

Director: Antony Hoffman

Producers: Bruce Berman, Mark Canton, Jorge Saralegui

Written by: Chuck Pfarrer, Jonathan Lemkin, Channing Gibson

Cast: Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore, Benjamin Bratt, Terence Stamp, Simon Baker

Rating: out of 5

The trailers that are shown before the feature presentation tell us a lot about who the studio thinks is sitting out there in the audience. Before RED PLANET, we were shown trailers for: PROOF OF LIFE, the diplomatic kidnapping-and-rescue vehicle starring Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe; DRIVEN, a car racing flick with Sly Stallone; and VALENTINE, a holiday horror picture. So Warner Brothers thinks that the folks who want to see RED PLANET like movies involving situations where love flourishes amidst danger; where men are men (and sometimes women are "men") and they do manly stuff that causes explosions/fires/crashes; and where love is hell?

RED PLANET is, for the most part, a by-the-numbers action movie that happens to be set in space. It's a bit of a bait-and-switch. The tag line—"Not a sound. Not a warning. Not a chance. Not alone."—suggests that our intrepid spacepersons meet with a threatening, ALIEN-like Martian species. It ain't like that.

These space travelers left a hopelessly polluted Earth to check on the project to render Mars habitable for humans. Their mission is to find out what's become of the oxygen-producing algae that has been seeded on the planet.

RED PLANET starts out with voiceover by Carrie-Anne Moss (playing Capt. Bowman, in a nod to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY), explaining how we fouled our nest and introducing the other crewmembers, scientists Chantillas (Stamp) and Burchenal (Sizemore), #2 Santen (Bratt), and the expendable yeoman (Baker). We're then thrown right into the meat of the movie. The writers insert a gratuitous shower scene, wasting no time getting Moss nekkid and wet.

Next, we have the usual Things That Don't Go As Planned. A flare damages the ship, causing Capt. Bowman to have to stay behind and launch the lander manually. (When the lander crashes onto Mars, it's surrounded by cushioning balloons that bounce down hills and fields just like in "The Prisoner".) Chantillas, the philosopher-scientist, is mortally injured and must stay behind. First man down, four to go. Next, the men find that their habitat station has been destroyed, leaving them without food, water, or oxygen. Then, there's a murder. Two down, three to go. Then their navigator-robot, AMEE, having been kicked into "military mode" by the crash landing, shows up. AMEE unfolds like an insectoid Transformer™, strikes bring-it-on kung fu poses, and proceeds to kick everybody's ass—two-and-a-half down, 2.5 to go. Then, there's stupidity, taking out one more crewmember. And so it goes, until only one ingenious human is left on the planet's surface. But not alone.

It would be unsporting to say who's left and who makes it out alive, but you can guess by the billing, can't you? All involved give competent, controlled performances. Kilmer usually gets on my nerves, but here he's fairly restrained, even when he's the comic relief. Sizemore is a hoot as the plain-speaking geneticist, and Moss is all wiry, gung-ho (actually she's Navy, not a Marine) charm. Stamp isn't given much to do but it's always a pleasure to watch him do it. All of this is set against the requisite explosions and fires and glaring product placement (this mission brought to you by Nokia and Toshiba, which will still be around in 2050, apparently).

I was pleased by the revelations of Mars. Too often humans forge ahead only to meet menace and evil, an attitude that has always struck me as unreasonably fearful. But RED PLANET has a post-Cold War sensibility, and thank goodness for it.

RED PLANET runs out of steam in the third act, returning to voiceover and telling us instead of showing us. For my money, the story's ending was reasonable and satisfying. It was its presentation that I found wanting. Still, this workmanlike space opera is probably worth catching on a matinee, if you've got some time to kill.

—Roxanne Bogucka

HYBRID Ratings Guide:

- Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

- It’s worth a full-price ticket.

- It’s worth a matinee ticket.

- Wait for video rental.

- Check out the video from the library, if you must.

- While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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